A group of Conserve School staff traveled to Treehaven, a center for learning about forest and wetland habitats as well as wildlife including deer, wolf, coyote and fisher. Located on 1,400 acres, Treehaven serves approximately 25,000 people per year with workshops, school programs, and public seminars. Their environmental programs are ongoing and offered to visiting students from around the Midwest.
Conserve School Teaching Fellows spent last Wednesday and Thursday observing an Environmental Education program for middle school students from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Staff from the Urban Ecology Center and local schools traveled from Milwaukee to Treehaven for a three-day program called "Northern Exposure." Two environmental educators visiting from North Lakeland Discovery Center, Licia and Annie, arranged a number of activities for the students to become more familiar with learning in the outdoors. Students participating in this environmental trip had differing levels of visual impairment and the staff of Treehaven and the North Lakeland Discovery Center developed lessons that met these students' needs.
To begin their northern exposure, students carefully dressed for snowshoeing and found themselves bounding, falling, and laughing in the snow. Most of the students participating in this program had no prior experience snowshoeing. This was a wonderful opportunity for these students and staff to try a new activity outside where they could hear the crunch of the snow, smell the balsam fir needles, and learn about different animals such as the snowshoe hare and the white-tail deer and how they maneuver through the snow. In addition to snowshoeing, students and staff built quinzees from snow, went tracking, cross country skiing, and participated in a wolf howl.
On Thursday the Conserve School Teaching Fellows got to observe a lesson all about snow. The students were given 3D snowflake books where they could feel the shape of each of the 7 types of snowflakes. The students then crafted their own tactile snowflakes out of pipe cleaners and cotton balls. Next the students made snow to take home from a mixture of baking soda and conditioner. To finish the lesson, students created a snow dessert by mixing sugar, half and half, vanilla and of course, actual snow! During the lesson the Teaching Fellows learned how a Braille typewriter works and got to see activities that include more focus touch and smell than sight. They also listened to non visually-centered language. Instead of asking the student what they saw, they were asked went they felt, discovered and explored.
After lunch the students went outside to explore different types of animal tracks. They tried moving like different animals including hoppers, bounder, wadlers and walkers. Staff then created scent trails in the snow and the students followed the different tracks based solely on the scents.
The purpose of observing these lessons was to reach out to other environmental educators and learn how to effectively adapt to student needs and interests. Conserve School staff were grateful for the time spent with the middle school students as well as the environmental educators to learn how other programs inspire environmental stewardship.