Steward Stories Feature: Connecting with Students for Greater Impact

As an educator, I began working at Blandford Nature Center with the goal to get my boots on the ground and gain some field experience in outdoor education. The more I discovered about how the outdoors serves as a powerful teaching tool, the more I wanted to work to help more school communities take learning out from the confines of the four walls.

Every school has nearby nature threatened by invasive species. What a powerful motivator for students to put their map making skills to good use, or use their writing to communicate their new findings about invasive plants.

Over the past three years, West Side Christian School second grade teachers have been working with Blandford Nature Center to make natural connections to their classroom content. Throughout the year they make seasonal visits to record observations in their Green Journals. Students draw a sketch of their surroundings, record the number of bird calls heard at different seasonal times, take note of the weather conditions, and more. They have discovered turtles, mink, frogs and other important species live in the nearby vernal swamp habitat. Yet over time is has become apparent, there is a great threat to this important habitat - Common Buckthorn!

The students put their new knowledge to use. The used the threat of the invasive species to fuel their efforts to write about the plant (using punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, etc.) and create a map (social studies content). When they arrived at the location the created their maps and were eager to use their hands to help pull the plant.

If it were just me, pulling the plant would only go as far as my hands would accomplish. Yet combine that with the collective efforts of the students, there is a greater impact. The students in turn engage their parents in the education. One student said that he already has helped his family remove the plant from their yard. These students grow to ask more questions, will work and learn how to find solutions and continue to help communicate the great need to be stewards of our natural resources. It is going to take a collaborative effort to find ways to eradicate invasive plants. We're getting the next generation of conservationists involved in the efforts today!

-Janet Staal, Grand Rapids