54 teachers from 13 schools link Schoolyards to School Forests


Funded by the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB), UW-Madison Arboretum collaborated with UW–Stevens Point LEAF, USDA Forest Service Urban Connections, and the School Districts of Madison, Monona, McFarland, Verona and Cambridge to provide a one-week Schoolyards to School Forests Teacher Professional Development Institute, to introduce the newly developed Earth Partnership for Schools’ (EPS) Woodland Curricular Sampler. Activities are cross-referenced with state standards, include assessment ideas, and are being pilot tested in collaboration with the 31 teachers from 13 schools who attended and became mentors for their colleagues. This project builds upon EPS’ proven effective curricular activities and state-wide network of restoration-based educators, meets a need among educators for a holistic approach to environmental education and urban forestry linked to standards, that enhances exchange and communication among teachers and provides support and mentoring for teachers to take learning outdoors from the schoolyard to the school forest and back again. The Institute was followed-up with 13 in-service workshops for the 31 teachers plus 23 additional colleagues and 2 workshops for 73 after-school educators. Topics included:
—Journey to Aldo Leopold Shack and Leopold Legacy Center –the importance of local heroes
—Field Experiences: Collecting and Analyzing Data
—Participatory Photo Mapping: digital cameras, GPS and Google Earth
—Networking and Connecting with Local Community Resources: A Share-fair
—Service Learning and After School Clubs
LEAF Program Workshop: Urban Forestry and Sustainability
—Watersheds: Land & Water Dynamics
—Birds, Birding at the Heron Rookery, Madison School Forest
—Taxonomy and How to Make Field Guides
—Journals for Art and Science
—Phenology Wheels: Observing species through the seasons
—Afterschool Educators: Sharing Nature with Children, Winter on the Schoolyard

Products including the EPS Woodland Sampler, Rain Garden Sampler, Phenology Wheel Activities are available on this website under “Tools for Teachers.”

Project Goals and Objectives included:
—Enhance teacher content and process skills linking urban forest habitat restorations and greening projects on the schoolyard.
—Provide participants with a rich understanding of ecological restoration and project-based learning through interdisciplinary, hands-on, inquiry-based teaching, with an emphasis on learning theories such as multiple intelligences.
—Demonstrating the use of technology to encourage critical thinking skills, problem solving and performance skills.
—Teachers experienced a variety of teaching methods through interdisciplinary, hands-on, inquiry-based learning focused on restoration and ecological investigations and emphasizing multiple intelligences, reflection, problem solving, and cooperative learning.
—Teachers learned how to implement participatory photo mapping with students using digital cameras, GPS units and Google Earth to assess the urban forest concerns such as storm water, vegetation and habitat.
—Provide teachers with hands-on practice of activities in the EPS 10-Step Restoration Education Process and EPS Woodland Sampler and Database User Guide. Activities include site analysis, native species selection, planting with students, canopy, ground layer and soil analysis, phenology, urban forest eco-services (benefits) and long-term tree growth monitoring.
—School teams develop school action plans to involve students in schoolyard greening projects based on School Forest Investigations. (August 2010)
—Provide participants with 2 graduate credits through the UW-Madison Department of Curriculum and Instruction with tuition waived. (August 2010)

The following comments from teachers describe their experiences and how learning focused on natural systems and restoration becomes a powerful context for enhancing their knowledge and skills and providing high quality, engaging EE experiences for their students.

“The power of an interdisciplinary, hand-on, inquiry based learning experience in which multiple intelligences and learning modalities are tapped is made abundantly evident in my own Earth Partnership experiences. ...”

“The Earth Partnerships for Schools Institute was a wonderful, expanding experience for me, providing a much-needed opportunity to gain new knowledge and insights, collaborate with other area educators, and to bond as a team.”

“I felt that as participants in the workshop, we …represented a typical eighth grade class: not always completely motivated; some tired, distracted; some completely engaged; some of us needed more movement and some less. The curriculum …reached all of us; it touched a common chord… These activities and lessons will do the same for my eighth grade students: engage, teach, motivate, and discover that harmony.”

The following shows one teacher’s adaptations of Single Spot and Tree Height Activities for both math and language arts for ELL students:

“The Institute reminded me of the importance of balancing hands-on/minds-on activities and providing time to discuss, construct knowledge together, and to reflect upon experiences… that balance between explore and do; talk and think… I began to grasp the importance and power of data collection over time and will …incorporate this into our daily routines and our outdoor learning experiences. ...We will adopt and monitor trees. We will do one spot journaling throughout the school year to monitor change and to connect our observations across the curriculum.”

“Students were instructed to choose a special tree within our observation site and to spread themselves out so that they could focus on their surroundings and their tree and not on each other. They were asked to begin by simply sitting and observing with all of their senses. They could describe their tree with words and/ or drawings. They could write poems or questions. Midway everyone was invited to approach their tree for a closer look and feel and then to return and finish their journaling. They shared enthusiastically when we went back in.

“Two days later …we measured the circumference 3 feet from the ground. I visited each group and gave support to one with several ELL students. I was emphasizing applying measuring skills and language development, especially the idea of “level” or in this case an equal measure to the ground and parallel. students worked out their own cooperative methods with tape measures…excellent work for this group. Then I assisted them with finding the diameter …placing two meter/yard sticks on either side of the tree at the 3ft height. We worked to get the sticks parallel. We checked by repeatedly measuring the distance between the sticks on both ends and making adjustments to the angles of the sticks until the distance was the same. That measure was our diameter.

Then we did the math extension for my “pi” loving students: those intrigued by pi. I placed the diameter and circumference measurements in a ratio table and asked if they could round either number to create “friendly” numbers. A student chose 30 to 90. We reduced this to a 3 to 1 ratio. I asked them if that relationship between the diameter and the circumference of a circle seemed familiar. Suddenly they recognized pi in a new place. We grabbed calculators and computed the actual ratios. They were reasonable approximations of pi. Very exciting!”

Teachers experienced at least 6 inquiry-based learning experiences involving data collection and analysis. We invited guest speakers. Dr. Jennifer Sydel, Expeditionary Learning Consultant, presented how to guide student questioning, identify relevant data to collect, and how to construct data organizers. Dr. Robert Bohanan, Center for Biology Education presented about guiding students through high level ecological studies involving inquiry.

We invited experienced teachers such as Matt Tiller, a science teacher from Verona High School; Amy Callies, a Kindergarten teacher and master grant writer and project facilitator from Park Elementary; and Georgia Gomez-Ibanez, an Environmental Educator at Cambridge Elementary to lead activities, explain how they adapted activities for diverse learners and ages and to provide tips for taking students outside and manage projects.

Sarah Wright (CBE); Sarah Gilbert (LEAF); Betty Downs, Nancy Sheehan, Janet Moore, Georgia Gomez-Ibanez (School Forest naturalists) and EPS offered follow-up support via classroom visits, field trips, and consultations.

Perhaps the most powerful accomplishment was from the teachers themselves serving as mentors to one another and to colleagues at their schools.

The following comments capture the quality of mutual supportive learning, the enthusiasm for sharing with colleagues and the ultimate impact on the students and community.
—“What a fun time we had over the past 9 months. It was wonderful to see how much everyone grew and to feel how much I grew in my outdoor education. What a wonderful experience. I am so thrilled to be passing this on to the children in my class.”
—“I am extremely lucky to have participated in the workshop when I did. I networked, meeting people at different locations in Dane County, at different facilities, also in different buildings within Verona Schools…We built a relationship that I think we will use and benefit from throughout the years to come. Verona Area Schools will benefit from this, because we are going to provide a bridge of collaboration and understanding throughout our buildings and throughout levels of learning that the students will enjoy.”
—“I am excited about taking inquiry based science into the schoolyard. I have learned a lot about inquiry based learning in my teaching years but I see the potential to take it to a higher level through my Earth Partnership activities.”
—“All of our sixth grade science classes have done the phenology wheels activities for the last two years, total of about 180 students each year and three teachers. We start out with Birthday Phenology, then used a combination of Single Spot Observation and Enhancing a Sense of Place. Each teacher has two separate classes for science, so these three teach that subject to the whole grade. I think it speaks to the success of the EPS curriculum and using the wheels as tools that teachers felt confident enough to do this once a month on their own, adding it to their regular curriculum. The simplicity of the phenology wheels really helps to take the intimidation factor out of writing and ties scientific observation skills to language and visual arts. They have been fantastic for fostering place-based learning and forming an ongoing connection to nature. Most of all, the kids have embraced this activity, so much so that they are the ones reminding the teachers to get out to the school forest every month!”
—“Development of the prairie area has led to dozens of teachers using the site year-round for outdoor science and language arts activities. I feel the students have a real sense of ownership of the prairie, especially their “spot” and I often see students in the prairie during non-school hours. I find that many of the teachers feel confident in their own knowledge to use the prairie as a teaching tool on a regular basis, and have used the EPS curriculum to really enhance their existing science program.”
—“I feel our whole school neighborhood is very environmentally friendly. We take care of the school yard, parks and our yards and are trying to restore our habitats to a natural state. We have so many plants, trees and wildlife to enjoy. It is a good place for families to live. Children want to be outside and learn about the Earth.”

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.