Navigation and Tree Identification
Emma Velis, Science Teaching Fellow

One of the special things about living, learning, and working at Conserve School is our proximity to the Sylvania Wilderness Area. The northern border of Lowenwood is the southern border of Sylvania, but the Wilderness Area often feels like an extension of our campus. For staff and students, Sylvania is a place of adventure, an opportunity for exploration, and a particularly captivating classroom. We recently had the chance to venture into Sylvania in a lesson that combined the Outdoor Skills and AP Environmental Science classes for a full afternoon during the second week in February. Outdoor Skills and Science staff partnered up to plan this lesson that included practice in both subjects.

Students laying in snow with snowshoes, maps and compasses

In groups of eight, students donned snowshoes, pulled out their compasses, and gathered around maps to chart a course into Sylvania. They had practiced their orienteering skills in a previous Outdoor Skills class, so they were prepared to lead the way into the wilderness. We set off with the students taking full responsibility for navigation, each group of eight students and two staff members heading to a different lake in Sylvania. 

The Northwoods had certainly delivered on snow, so we made our way through quite a lot of it. Our frustration with the deep snow through which we trudged was matched by our awe at the beauty of the snow and ice covering the trees. I’m sure that most who have been for a walk in snowy woods will know the joy we took from shaking that tree snow onto each other. We consumed many frozen granola bars as we trekked along.

Students sitting in snow

Once we reached our destinations, it was time for science! Students had the opportunity to practice the tree identification skills they’ve been working on in science as they assessed the Sylvania forest community composition. Students identified trees and recorded species abundance for the variety of species they observed. Sylvania is home to mixed-hardwood forests, swamp forests, and bog forests, so each group encountered a slightly different mix.

Access to Sylvania Wilderness Area makes all of our classes come alive. It was spectacular to spend the afternoon in our big backyard, and I look forward to the next Sylvania adventure.

Students learning tree identification
two students in snowshoes in the snow

Photos contributed by Andrew Deaett, Science Teacher and Emma Velis, Science Teaching Fellow.