Louisiana Resource Center for Educators:
Schoolyard Nature Habitats
Baker Heights Elementary Builds Discovery Outpost
Discovery Outpost is a unique learning facility located on the school grounds of an elementary school which serves a population of primarily low income, at-risk students. Approximately four years ago a group of third grade students began a dream with the help of their teacher, Mrs. Welch. Roxson Welch has a deep commitment to the protection of the environment. This is carried out by expanding her sphere of influence through the children she teaches. The children impact their parents and there is a ripple effect throughout the community.
Discovery Outpost grew from this ripple effect. It started as an extension of Mrs. Welch's classroom and grew to a tremendous project that eventually involved the entire community and has garnered national recognition.
Start with a Simple Garden
It actually started with a simple garden. The garden needed bees, hence the observation hive in the classroom window. Because of the bees, the garden had to be pesticide-free which lead to an intense study in environmental education. Discovery Outpost was born!
Get the Students Involved!
The children designed a mini-habitat to protect their classroom pets without cages. In the process they designed an area which grew to become a standard for environmental education throughout the country. Mrs. Welch took the plans and ideas to a landscape architect who donated his time and drew up a set of blueprints.
Look for Partnerships
The blueprints opened doors. A local contracting company, Harmony Construction, agreed to help with the cost. The Urban Corps agreed to provide the labor if we could supply a supervisor who would teach the young people how to do the work. The Urban Corps is a group of young people who are on federal assistance and are most often high school dropouts. They are funded by the federal government through the Job Training Partnership Act. Harmony Construction agreed to provide a supervisor as well as pay half the costs of the materials needed for the walkway. The other half of the funds was provided through a spaghetti dinner at Walmart. The Walmart Foundation matched the funds earned dollar for dollar. The children sold tickets and earned $1,584.00 which is an incredible task when one considers the economic constraints they were under. The matching funds brought this to a grand total of $3168.00 and construction began.
The ponds and stream were built through a cooperative venture between the public works departments of the City of Baker and the Parish of East Baton Rouge. Donations from individuals and businesses in the community as well as several grants provided the materials needed to turn the facility into a learning laboratory which services pre-kindergarten children through high school.
Concrete Stream Bed
The "Sharewood Forest" Addition
Each year a new group of students expand the facility. We now have Sharewood Forest which is a "forest" planted entirely by students. Sharewood Forest is home to approximately 100 trees, an archaeological dig site, a fruit tree orchard, and a bog. Learning stations are now being constructed throughout the forest based on the interests of the students. The learning stations include thermometers located under trees, near the grass, and above the open ground. There are stations related to the water table, erosion and erosion prevention techniques.
Discovery Outpost and Sharewood Forest is an innovative approach to learning. Nature provides the incentive for young children to experience learning using the world around them. Discovery Outpost includes various mini-habitats such as ponds, a stream, a fallen log, and vegetation which provides food and shelter to encourage wildlife. Discovery Stations are located along the perimeter of the Nature Garden. The Discovery Stations include nature observation, measurement, weather, energy, and a discovery station that changes periodically to provide a continually expanding and dynamic discovery area. There is also an organically grown, pesticide-free vegetable and Louisiana wildflower garden which is complemented by an observation beehive and ant colony. The gates of Discovery Outpost lead to Sharewood Forest. All of these stations are explained in detail momentarily.
Realizing a Dream
Discovery Outpost was designed by a group of third grade students. The purpose was to involve them in their own learning and to give them a love of nature through a daily exposure to it. The children that built Discovery Outpost and Sharewood Forest are primarily latch key children and children who live in federally funded housing projects far from the tranquility of the forested countryside. They designed and built their dream. They use it to study nature and encourage stewardship of the earth. As an extension of this project they are actively involved in recycling paper and aluminum, as well as the yard waste which we recycle by turning it into compost for our gardens. Last year they recycled 17,418 pounds of newspaper. The proceeds of the sales of these items provide funds for bird seed and small equipment needs.
Discovery Outpost and Sharewood Forest allows the children to act positively toward making a difference in their world by allowing them to become stewards of a small part of the earth. They have become the mentors for all who visit (children and adults) and are experts on environmental issues. Their expertise impresses all who are exposed to them. They have become ambassadors for the earth and have had a tremendous impact on the environmental consciousness of their families, neighbors, friends, fellow students, and teachers.
A Model for the Country
Because of their knowledge, they have been highlighted in a nationwide television program sponsored by Public Broadcasting called Promises to Keep for the past two years. This was a series relating to environmental programs that work throughout the United States. Through this program they shared their knowledge with teachers and students across the United States. Discovery Outpost has also been profiled in the Roger Tory Peterson's Nature Educators pamphlet.
Roxson Welch & the "Outpost Team"
Build "Learning Stations" into the Project
Although the students designed Discovery Outpost to provide a home to their animals, Discovery Outpost has become a learning facility. It benefits students throughout the curriculum. It is instrumental in teaching the students skills in Math, Science, Language Arts, as well as Social Studies through Discovery Centers. By experiencing skills through concrete, hands-on, activities the students learn the concepts at a deeper level. The students understand. They then use this base of understanding to build upon. Observation Station is located at the entrance of Discovery Outpost.
The animals residing inside Discovery Outpost include turtles, various species of fish common to Louisiana, small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels, birds, butterflies, and bees. Discovery Outpost's landscaping includes plants which provide food and shelter for the various animals attracted to the area.
Stations on the "Path of Discovery"
At Observation Station the students record the location of various animals and their actions as well as the time of day. They use these behavioral records to infer trends and make predictions based on the data collected. The students also conduct in-depth research regarding the water quality of the Discovery Outpost pond system. All the data is collected by the students and compared to make inferences related to the health of the system.
The next stop along the "Path of Discovery" walkway is the Measurement Station. Various measurement devices are located at this point and give students a chance to measure the weather, themselves, and other objects. The hands-on, daily experience using these instruments is a vital step in understanding and applying the knowledge needed in measurement. The students measure everything ranging from the dimensions and weight of a rock to the distance between their ears and the growth rates of various plants and animals.
The Weather Station has a minimum-maximum thermometer that records the high and low temperatures during a twenty-four hour period, rain gauge, barometer, humidity indicator, and a wind speed and directional gauge. Using these instruments the students record and graph the daily weather conditions.
The next stop along the "Path of Discovery" is Discovery Garden. Discovery Garden features an observation beehive, a grape arbor, and an Earth Friendly garden. The beehive has a fence around it with a plexiglass window for viewing the activity of the bees. This activity is recorded and graphed on a daily basis. Over the walkway at the site of the beehive is a muscadine and concord grape arbor.
The garden uses Native American planting traditions and is grown completely pesticide-free with the use of companion planting and predator insects to manage common garden pests. It also incorporates the use of composting for fertilization rather than commercial fertilizers.
Through the use of the garden the students are taught the conservationist methods of the Native American culture as well as given a balanced view of the need for fertilizers and pesticides. The garden is small and has quite a few hands taking care of it. Although it is grown completely pesticide free (the bees would be harmed by most pesticides) this is not possible under all circumstances. The students become actively involved in research which deals with this issue head on. Information is provided which will allow the children to grow to become environmentally conscious, thinking adults who make decisions based on careful consideration.
Along the Path of Discovery, across from Discovery Garden, is Critter Crossing. This is a dirt path crossing the walkway with animal tracks from animals native to Louisiana. The children change these tracks weekly by making mud and then using plaster casts of animal tracks for the indentions. The students identify the animal and answer several questions regarding it such as "What is this animal?" "Was it heavy?", "Was it alone or in a pack?", etc. The younger students draw the animal and what they thought it might be doing when it came into Discovery Outpost. All the students write fictional stories about the night and early morning visitors to Discovery Outpost.
The Energy Center focuses on alternative energy sources. The students are involved in activities to discover the use of power gathered from the sun, wind, water, and earth. There are solar cookers, gadgets connected to solar panels, wind mills, water wheels, and experiments to show the benefits as well as the disadvantages of each power source.
Earth's Treasure Station
The Earth's Treasure Station is the next, and final stop, along the Path of Discovery. This is actually the geology center which has a discovery center for fossils ( a large tub of gravel). There are also various samples of rocks. These include different types of rocks and an identification station. Magnifying glasses and materials for scratch tests are provided for classes who wish to conduct further investigations.
The Sharewood Forest Project
In Sharewood Forest, the children participate in activities which relate to conservation.
Sharewood Forest is the home to a fruit orchard and currently 40 different species of trees to provide habitat area for the wildlife we are actively attracting to the area. Sharewood Forest is basically an outdoor classroom facility.
Composting & the Worm Bin
Sharewood Forest has an active three compartment compost bin where the yard waste from the school is composted and used in the organically grown vegetable garden and around the trees and shrubs throughout the school. There is also a large worm bin for vermicompost. This is used in the vegetable garden.
Five Senses Garden
Sharewood Forest houses the Five Senses Garden. This was built with visually impaired students in mind but has proven itself to be equally valuable for regular education students. The Five Senses Garden has plants which have specific purposes which relate to sight, sound, smell, touch and taste; for example, there are several different types of herbs for the Taste Station.
The Archaeological Dig site is a 12 by 12 foot area filled in with sand. A grid is made with cement blocks lined up in a grid fashion so the children can work on specific sections and carefully document all the "artifacts" found in their particular sites and measure the depth which they were found. The students then compile the information and make inferences based on what was found. The artifacts consist of plaster casts of fossils and other objects.
Discovery Outpost and Sharewood Forest involve students in hands-on activities in which they must use problem-solving techniques, reading, research, mathematical skills, social studies, art, and science all in an integrated method which allows the children to see the connections between the subjects and their world. This addresses a vital need for all children. Through Discovery Outpost the children see that knowledge with action can change the world and that the world begins in their own backyard.
Through Discovery Outpost the children have reached far beyond the boundaries of their own backyards to make a difference throughout the community, the parish, the state and quite possibly, the nation. Through their proactive measures they have been empowered. The knowledge they have earned and passed on to others will last a lifetime because it is not merely a memory of facts it is a lifestyle of concern and careful consideration in all that is done. The impact is great whether it is for a better environment and future or simply a careless and thoughtless act harming the environment. This group of children have dedicated themselves to providing a world where actions are based on knowledge and foresight. Through their efforts in Discovery Outpost they will continue to provide the learning experiences which will create generation after generation of stewards of the earth.
For more information about Discovery Outpost and for tips on how to create a "nature habitat" on your school grounds, contact Roxson Welch or Patty Birkett at the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators (LRCE). See also the "Building Habitats" bibliography, a selected list of pertinent resources available in the LRCE lending library.
The Louisiana Resource Center for Educators is dedicated to innovation, quality and service to educators. LRCE is a unique service for K-12 educators who work in private, parochial and public schools in Louisiana. LRCE supports learning in the classroom in three ways: (1) A Multi Media Lending Library; (2) Exciting Workshops for Teachers; and (3) Consultation Services in a Variety of Content Areas.
Louisiana Resource Center for Educators
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phone: (225) 387-5700
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Visit LRCE on the web at http://www.lrce.org.