Maria Cricket Henderson
Outdoor Environmental Education
Topeka Public Schools
125 S.E. 27th St.
Topeka, Kansas 66605
My three favorite lectures were given by Donald Wooster, John Opie and Dan Flores. I enjoyed Dr. Wooster’s ideas on the Dust Bowl and other influences humans have had on nature and nature has had on humans. I thought Dr. Opie had some original ideas on people’s perspectives of where they call home affecting their views of the environment and his brief exploration into chaos theory. Dr. Flores helped inspire my lesson which helps give the students a “sense of place.”
I take fifth-grade students hiking in a forested region through a grassland, to a pond ecosystem and then to a lake shore. They are observing along the way what kinds of producers, consumers, and decomposers they find in the three different ecosystems. I tell students before we hike this was the last Delaware Indian reservation in Kansas, so keep your eyes open for signs that might help prove this. This land was also used as a wagon trail crossing, and can you find signs of that? As we identify whether something is a producer, consumer or decomposer we talk about how they are related or the basic ecological principle: Everything is related to everything else, but how? We taste 5 local edible plants. We discover tracks, listen to birds, learn our direction with the sun, talk about the water cycle, rock cycle, matter cycle, air cycle. We discover other signs of animals like feces, egg casings, nests, scrapings. We talk about local myths and legends. We talk about how things come to be the way they are. Common tree names and exotic plants are discovered. At night, we study the constellations. We talk about why the lake was built. We sleep in tents. The next day we integrate the whole day to center around science, social studies, math, English, art, and even P.E. with an environmental twist.
I feel the teachers at the People, Prairies, and Plains Institute were some of the best in their fields. My only hope is that some of their works and enthusiasm rubs off on their peers. I know my teachings will always have an environmental twist to them.
Unit Goals and Objectives:
1. To understand plants’ and animals’ roles in nature.
2. To understand the interactions among plants, animals, and humans.
3. To recognize the need to be “Keepers of the Earth.
Following the study of this unit, students will be able to indicate awareness:
1. of different groups of plants.
2. of different groups of animals.
3. of the needs of plants and animals.
4. of the characteristics of the cultures of Indians who had lived in the area.
5. of the many changes in the geological features of the area through millions of years using fossils as indicators of these changes.
6. of the characteristics of the culture of early Kansas settlements.
7. of the formation of Lake Perry.
8. of the cycles of nature.
Goal: While on a field trip in their native environment, students will ask themselves these questions: How have things come to be the way they are? Does everything relate to everything? If so, how? And does everything in nature go in cycles and if so how?
Objectives: Students will be able to identify producers, consumers, decomposers, plant needs, animal needs, and the water, rock, matter, and air cycles found in the different ecosystems.
Materials: Clipboards with data sheets, pencils, a collection sack, hand lens to magnify and canteen of water if hot and hiking far. If away from school plan a sack lunch, first aid kit, emergency forms, and the kids’ medicines. Long pants on the kids are best for truly wild hikes. Hats also can aid in avoiding ticks and sun.
Time: A half-hour to a three-hour hike can touch on objectives depending on the age of kids, the depth of study, and the place location to the school.
Activity: The students will explore their environment by hiking through several ecosystems: a grassland, a pond, a forest, and then to a lake. While exploring these habitats they will observe and record any producers, consumers, or decomposers they find. Students will look for signs of animals. They will try some edible plants. As they hike they will make observations about their surroundings and use their problem-solving skills to answer the following questions. These will help them develop a sense of place and grasp their objectives. The questions were designed so even teachers with a non-science background could have some success with outdoor exploration.
* If a discovered living thing has a mouth it is a consumer; if it is green and does not have a mouth it is a producer. What if it is living and is neither of these groups? Students should be able to figure out that it should be a fungus or decomposer.
* Every year leaves fall from the trees we are standing under. Some of these trees are at least 100-years-old. If at least 2 inches of leaves fall off every year, how come we are not buried up to our eyeballs in leaves? What happens to the leaves? Students should connect the concepts of the decomposers recycling the leaves back to dirt.
* The larger leaves on a tree are more likely to be located where, at the top or bottom of a tree? Why? Students should think about the needs of a plant and observe that the leaves are bigger at the bottom of a tree because they are shaded by other leaves and need to reach for sunlight.
* Why do vines climb up? Students should figure out that they are trying to reach sunlight.
* What are some non-living parts of the ecosystem we found today? Water, sunlight, rocks, air (expand on their cycles).
* What causes the naturally occurring ditches we observed? Erosion by water from unprotected soil.
* What are some signs of animals we found? Students will list discoveries like, tracks, feces, scrapings, bones, voices, egg casings, nests.
* How do some plants need animals? Some plant seeds are like Velcro and attach to passing animals to find new homes. Many animals aid in fertilization of the flowers.
* Could we put a plant in a jar with soil, moisture, and place the jar in sunlight? Would the plant live, even if you do not put holes in the sealed lid? Yes, the plant produces oxygen during the day and reverses at night to making CO2.
* How do humans use plants and why are they important? Clothes, food, medicines, homes, paper, pencils and even the air we breathe.
* What does a flower do for a plant? It makes the seed.
* Why does Kansas have limestone rocks? It was under the bottom of the ocean as proven by the fossils found in these rock layers.
* Why did humans build a lake here? They built it for flood control, water conservation and recreation.
* Delaware Native Americans lived here. If a Native American carved a symbol to pledge his or her love to another in one of the few trees in his grassland habitat, and you discovered the scar left behind. . . would the scar be in the same place? Higher? or lower? Why? Students should evaluate how a tree grows and come up with same place.
* Where does a tree make its food? (the leaves) Where does it drink its water and minerals? (the roots) So, where does it go to the bathroom? Students should realize just like us they would not want to store waste where they are processing food. The correct answer is in the very middle of the trunk.
* Is the bark of a tree alive? Will a tree bleed if you cut it? No, it is not alive but the layer right below it is. And no, it will not bleed but may release some sap.
* If you cut your hand and then play in the dirt what happens? It gets infected. If you carve into a tree’s bark what happens? Does it get infected and if so with what? Yes, often with insects then fungus.
* If you do not mow or burn the tallgrass meadows, what will happen to them over time? Succession of shrubs and trees.
* The Indians called the cottonwood a “signal tree.” What was the tree supposed to signal? The location of water.
* If you’re out hiking in the woods, what could you use to maintain your sense of direction? If the kids say moss be sure to point out examples on your hike that show this is not true. The sun is the answer. The “never, eat, sour, wheat,” in a clockwise rotation should remind them of their directions, North, East, South and West.
This lesson could be regional adapted fit your local habitat. You can assess whether the lesson was a success if the students want to write, draw, and communicate about their “place.” This Activity lends itself well to cross curriculum teaching.