Forest Detectives in the Cold at Cave Hill School

by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO

CaveHillAfterSchool_2.14.18.jpg

As the days grew longer, albeit colder and snowier, a group of “Forest Detectives” at Cave Hill School sought to learn how our outdoor neighbors survive the Maine winter during our 8-week after school series there from January through March. The first day of the program involved hiking through snow that we sunk into past our knees, considering what makes winter challenging for living things in the area. “Snow depth” and “cold” were their first answers, but they quickly realized that the presence of an icy crust on the snow and the lack of food available were also considerable challenges to our winter neighbors. Having made an exhaustive list of all the winter challenges they could think of, and having exhausted themselves in the process, the students were ready to dive into a different winter adaptation each week.

Their first topic of focus was mammal survival. With the added enthusiasm of some students from Unity College who were shadowing this program for the day, students ages 8 to 21 were shown pictures of some of our local mammals and had to run to the sign that illustrated how that mammal survived winter. Students of all ages shared what they knew about winter mammals, with the youngest students having the most to share. All students were surprised to learn that Maine only has three true hibernators: groundhogs, little brown bats, and jumping meadow mice. 

CaveHillAfterSchool_3.28 (14).jpg

Having explored some key winter challenges and adaptations, these “Forest Detectives in the Cold” spent later programs looking for evidence of bird activity, building ideal shelters that would support different winter mammals and birds, honing their observation skills, looking for evidence of whether animals know a storm is coming, and practicing their camouflage skills in order to get into the mindset of a winter prey animal.

On the last day, students filled a chalkboard with sticky notes that illustrated the different things they learned throughout the program. Even though the program was 8 weeks long, it felt too short for one Cave Hill 3rd-grader who confidently told the MOS educator and his peers on the last day: “We have to convince the principal and all our teachers to get Maine Outdoor School to come back!”
 

CaveHillAfterSchool_3.28 (5).jpg

 

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

Ella Lewis School Students Brave Depths of Winter with MOS

By Joseph Horn
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator

If you want to find a fox, you must be the fox!
— Ella Lewis School 5th-Grader

While some mammals of the Maine woods spend their winters hibernating in a warm den, 25 of Ella Lewis School’s intrepid 3rd-6th grade after school students did just the opposite this winter. As long as school wasn’t cancelled due to one of our many Nor’Easters this year, no amount of ice and snow could keep these kids inside as they unceasingly pursued an answer to winter’s persistent question: How do animals survive despite the frigid temperatures and scarce food?

 Sometimes carrying sticks for your shelter can be hard and you just have to fall over!

Sometimes carrying sticks for your shelter can be hard and you just have to fall over!

Students used science, art, observation, and (most importantly) play to unlock winter’s secrets. First, this insatiably inquisitive group combed through the woods behind their school identifying challenges to life in the winter as well as animal tracks. Life abounded back there in the form of red squirrels, foxes, snowshoe hares, and beavers despite the ice, cold, limited shelter, and meager food sources!

While they enjoyed creating art using found natural objects and loved playing round after round of "camouflage" to study predator-prey interactions, one activity clearly stood above the rest as their all time favorite: constructing DIS. The acronym DIS stands for Dry, Insulative, and Strong—three features that ensure a shelter is suitable to keep an animal safe and comfortable through the dark, cold days of winter. To make DIS shelters, they constructed them using sticks, bark, and leaves. The activity also helped the students suss out the distinction between behavioral adaptations (what we do) and physiological adaptations (how we are) to the cold weather.

Though the theme of this eight-week series was on winter ecology and animal survival, one lesson stood out above all: a small patch of Downeast woods is all that kids need for hour after hour of play, learning, and excitement filled with wildlife, mystery, and adventure. As one enthusiastic Ella Lewis School student described, “If you want to find a fox, you must be the fox!”

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

Building Resilience at Peninsula School Part 2

By Joe Horn
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator

PeninsulaStudents.png

The sun sets rapidly Downeast in the winter—especially after school. In the waning light, snow, and cold, an intrepid group of 4th-6th graders at the Peninsula School explored the forests around the school for ways that they could give back to their community. The students bounded through snow to find birds, trudged through mud in search of animal tracks, and combed through the woods to collect trash. These explorers were unstoppable. This article summarizes the second half of this program; to read about the first half of this program, read our article about it here.

Towards the end of the eight weeks, the students had collected enough information about their schoolyard to develop a project to give back to the community. They noticed that around the woods there were plenty of signs of birds, but few birds actually made themselves visible. It was clear to the students that the school would benefit from having a space on campus where classes could go to observe the birds. From science to art, having a bird observation area on campus will allow students and teachers at the Peninsula School to easily integrate nature into their curricula.

“I’m just excited to draw the birdies. Blue jays are my favorite.”
— a 3rd-grader in the program

The students next grappled with how to get birds to a viewing area. The woods around their school had a stream, plenty of cover and a diversity of habitats--all things that birds need in an area except... “Food!” one exuberant student described, was necessary to attract the birds to a viewing area. By using recycled juice bottles, the students created bird-feeders and strung them on trees at the edge of the woods near the cross country trail.

From exploring the ways different living things modeled resilience around the school in November to applying those models to their own lives as winter wore on, students recognized that building bird-feeders would be a perfect way to get their schoolmates to learn from nature too. 

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

Unlocking Nature's Mysteries with Mountain View School

by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator

From November 2017 until early January 2018, a hardy group of Mountain View Elementary School students became “Forest Detectives” during an 8-part Maine Outdoor School after school series. For an hour each week, students explored, learned, played, and journaled about the forest lives around their school. To learn about the first half of that program, focused on mammals, birds, fungi, and bugs, check out our previous article here.

 A student creating a species account of a snowshoe hare, after having found and identified its tracks

A student creating a species account of a snowshoe hare, after having found and identified its tracks

For the second half of this program, snow and ice accumulated, temperatures dropped, and new signs of their forest neighbors emerged.  They looked for animal tracks and acted out the different ways animals move in a race that awarded not the fastest, but the most accurate representation of a given species’ movement. They identified evergreen trees and compared the differences between firs, spruces, cedars, and pines. They even spooked a partridge twice, identified snowshoe hare and ermine tracks, and modeled their forest landscape in the snow.

 Students building models of the landscape as the sun set at 4pm!

Students building models of the landscape as the sun set at 4pm!

At the end of the program, all students reported that they had had fun, learned a lot, and wanted Maine Outdoor School to come back to their school!

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!
 

 For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

 

Building Resilience: Peninsula School’s After School Program

Narraguagus7_3.3.17 (4).jpg

By Joe Horn
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator

“Can we do science today?!” asked one especially inquisitive student as I stepped into the after school session at the Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor to gather up my group. Lucky for him, science was at the core of what we were doing that day and every other day during this after school series. We’re focused on building community resilience around the school by identifying and then strengthening the things that make their community (both natural and human) strong.

We are now officially more than half-way through the eight-week series. During the first half, the students have exercised their teamwork through a teambuilding game, picked up trash around their soccer field and their cross-country trail, quietly observed birds and squirrels, tracked deer and coyotes, and created plaster casts of their tracks. During these series of activities, students were challenged to develop ideas for projects they could do towards the end of this after school series. Students came up with ideas such as:

  • Creating a composting system at their school
  • Doing trail work on their cross country trail
  • Creating a bird feeding and observing area at the edge of their campus

By observing and experiencing how other species exemplify resilience, students are working on applying that to their own lives. For the last four sessions students will hone in on a specific project and implement their project. Stay tuned to see what they come up with!

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

Our New Road Sign is Complete

By Joe Horn
Co-Founder/Co-CEO

Signs.

20171017_135710.jpg

Geese travel south. Frosts get heavier and more frequent. The ice seems to be here to stay on quiet bends of the river. But seasons aren’t the only things that have signs!

Here at the MOS office we are ELATED that we were able to unveil our brand new road sign this week! This little feat was months in the working and we couldn’t have done it without the generous contributions of materials, time, and money that many of you donated. Thank you all for your continued support and generosity.

As with most things around here, Hazel Stark and I were the masterminds and craftspeople behind the building of this sign. I constructed the sign out of marine grade plywood so that it will withstand the harsh Downeast weather while Hazel artfully hand-painted our beautiful and intricate logo over a careful basecoat that her dad painted! Click here to learn more about the logo and Hallowbone, the Maine artist we contracted to design the bear logo.

We try to not read too much into things (aside from phenological happenings of course!) but when we managed to dig two post holes of Downeast soil that were three feet deep without hitting even a single stone, we realized that this might have been an auspicious sign. I mean really, when was the last time you dug a single shovelful of Maine soil and not pulled up at least a potato-sized rock?

At the base of the sign, there is a mound of soil and compost that has been planted with rhubarb crowns so that the landscaping will be both beautiful and edible. This rhubarb is just one more way that we at MOS try to model resilience in every aspect of our work.

So on your next swing through Milbridge, stop by for a wicked cuppa and, if in season, some rhubarb! 

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

“Forest Detectives” at Mountain View School Discover Bugs, Fungi, Mammals, and Birds

by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator

Starting in early November 2017, a hardy group of Mountain View Elementary School students became “Forest Detectives” during an 8-part Maine Outdoor School after school series. For an hour each week, students have been exploring, learning, playing, and nature journaling about the forest lives around their school as afternoon daylight diminished. They found daddy long legs, an especially large  fly agaric mushroom (being poisonous, students were taught how to identify it and not to touch it!), a sleepy young red squirrel, a hairy woodpecker, and much more!

It’s fun how sciencey this is!
— One student’s reflection after a day of finding bugs

Each program begins with an activity that gets students focused on their observation skills, such as matching sample paint chips to colors they find in nature or doing silent challenges to get them ready for quietly hiking through the woods. Then they get to freely explore, either in one area or via hiking through the forest, focused on finding a creature in a certain category. The first week they found bugs, followed by fungi, mammals, and birds.

 The most exciting discovery on fungi day

The most exciting discovery on fungi day

After they find examples of the day’s theme, they get out their nature journals and write a “species account” on one of the species they found by drawing what they saw, with labels, then writing what they noticed about it, how it behaved, and what it looked like. Next, they use field guides to learn more about a given species. Students have so far created species accounts on potato bugs, red squirrels, hairy woodpeckers, crows, fly agaric mushrooms (right), and more.

 This student found the perfect color match to his sample paint chip on some tree bark

This student found the perfect color match to his sample paint chip on some tree bark

At the end of every program, I ask them to share highlights from being a Forest Detective on that day. One student shared about his fascination with the number of toes red squirrels have on each foot, another about how red squirrels make their territorial chattering sound, and another about how crows will sometimes eat garbage. Another student asked me to write down the name of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England so that she could give it to her parents in hopes they might get it for her for the holidays.

These Forest Detectives have made some amazing discoveries so far and they’re only halfway done! Stay tuned here for news about the rest of the program; they’ll be exploring plant life and more soon.

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

 For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.

 

MOS Brochures Designed by College of the Atlantic Students

by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO

When two committed College of the Atlantic students get together to work towards a common effort, the results are typically outstanding. This project was no exception. When Jolie and Allie, two of Professor Dru Colbert's graphics design students at College of the Atlantic, offered to design us some brochures, the very first question they asked was “how flexible are you about the layout?” We knew from that point on that the results would be creative and effective. Before I introduce Allie and Jolie, here is a glimpse of one of the brochures they designed for us.

Educational Programs Brochure.jpg

Thank you, Allie and Jolie, for a job well done!

Jolie Lau (below right): When asked for a bio, she replied with "Adobe is my favourite computer game." She knows her stuff! You can see some of her work on her Vimeo page here and via LinkedIn here.

Allie Gay (below left): "I am a current student at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME. In studying Human Ecology, I have found the ways in which art seeps into and interacts with all aspects of the world. I am especially interested in using art to inform and educate people, whether that’s through a poster, a book, or a video. I believe art can convey emotion and create sympathy, especially when used alongside words. I work mostly with watercolor, pen and ink, and digital platforms such as illustrator and photoshop. You may view my work here."

 

Reflections from a MOS Outdoor Educator

by Ellie Oldach
Outdoor Educator

 Ellie teaching about carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores at Blueberry Harvest School

Ellie teaching about carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores at Blueberry Harvest School

This summer, I was hired by Maine Outdoor School to design and lead outdoor classes at the 2017 Blueberry Harvest School (BHS). BHS is an annual program run by the Maine Migrant Education Program and the non-profit, Mano en Mano. Its goal is to provide education and support to the children of Maine’s migrant blueberry rakers. Outdoor education has been incorporated as part of that goal. For the three and a half weeks of BHS, my co-teacher Kayla and I met with every class nearly every day, for forty-five minutes of “Outdoor Explorations” in the woods and fields of the BHS campus. And every Friday, I returned to staff meetings at Maine Outdoor School to recount the highlights and challenges and progress of the week at school.

We opened these staff meetings with notes on what was going on in the natural world. We’d list the flowers that were blooming every week, new behaviors from the resident birds, the first sightings of migratory species. Taken individually, these were small changes. But together, they captured the whole Maine summer, short and sweet and bursting with activity.

In reflecting on BHS and the role of Outdoor Explorations  within the school, I find clear parallels to the seasonal changes we noted at MOS staff meetings. In Outdoor Explorations we made our way through the summer through a host of games and discussions, songs and art pieces. Like the arrival of a new bird species or the blooming of a different wildflower, each activity taken alone is just a moment, a blip of the summer. But taken together, these moments created a rich season full of meaningful education in the outdoors.

Here, a handful of BHS moments:

Tree Touching.JPG

One especially sunny day, the pre-kindergarten class made a chalk outline of a puddle on the sidewalk. Returning to the puddle some time later, they noticed that it had shrunk while they were away. Where had the water gone? At first, they were puzzled, but then one student realized: the sun made it disappear! The students squinted up at the sun, realizing how powerful sunlight can be.

One week, the second and third grade class learned all about mosquitoes. As part of their explorations, students conducted a simple scientific study. They worked together to make mosquito traps from household objects then placed them in different parts of the BHS campus to learn which habitats mosquitoes prefer. Checking the traps was exciting for all: “We caught eleven mosquitoes, and a bee!” one student exclaimed, then settled in to carefully sketch one of the trapped mosquitoes.

In the second week, the oldest students played a game to demonstrate how chickadees and nuthatches use different parts of the tree as their main foraging source to reduce competition. After the game, a student told me about his experiences raking blueberries with other workers on the barrens. “We have to compete for boxes,” he explained, drawing a clear connection between challenges in the natural and human world alike.

What’s the picture that emerges when you add up all of these little moments? It’s a summer full of opportunities to learn and have fun in the natural world, a summer filled with lessons about the value of observing and interacting with our environment.

What’s more, it’s a summer full of lessons that stretch beyond the short season of BHS. I believe the fun and learning that happened in our outdoor classroom this summer will stay with students as they move on to new seasons in new environments. To be certain, I asked this very question on the last day. We were making nature art, and students were excited about and confident in exploring the woods in search of materials to compile into Andy Goldsworthy-inspired images and sculptures.

Do you think you’ll make nature art when you go home?” I asked students as they arranged their leaves and sticks into beautiful designs.

Yeah!” they responded in a chorus.

To read more about our programs at the 2017 Blueberry Harvest School, click on the following links: 

If you're interested in getting involved with the kinds of experiences Ellie shared above at Maine Outdoor School, reach out to us!

Beals Elementary Students Hike and Learn on Great Wass Island

By Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO

Beals Elementary students did not stay inside to read about science on September 14 and 15; Maine Outdoor School took Beals students in grades K-8 to the Great Wass Island Nature Preserve to learn geology and natural history through games, acting, exploration, art, and observation. On the first day, students in grades 5-8 focused on geology by identifying mineral types along the trail and observing the impacts of glaciers on the landscape. On the second day, those 5th-8th-graders buddied with students in grades K-4 to share what they learned and build new knowledge about the landscape together.

 A student wondered if the primary minerals in this rock were feldspar and quartz--she was right!

A student wondered if the primary minerals in this rock were feldspar and quartz--she was right!

“Education doesn’t just come from textbooks and lessons,” says Beals Elementary Principal Chris Crowley. “A good education is one where connections are made, connections that are relevant to the students’ lives.” One such connection students made was between the amount of time a rock cooled during its formation and the relative texture of the rock itself. Through playing a game where they acted out the four mineral types found in granite and how they crystallize, students were able to point at and feel rocks and describe whether they had cooled quickly or slowly based on the mineral composition. As they continued the 4.5-mile hike, they identified minerals in the variety of rocks they saw and pointed at “glacial erratics”--big rocks left behind by retreating glaciers.

 One student's interpretation of a butterfly, made out of mussel shells and seaweed

One student's interpretation of a butterfly, made out of mussel shells and seaweed

On the next day, all Beals Elementary students made art to illustrate the living, nonliving, and human factors that shape the landscape. In their buddied groups, they were challenged to create art using found objects on the shore that represented “what we can learn from the landscape.” Students built turtles, butterflies, and a lobster boat to illustrate just some of the many landscape features with which we coexist.

As they hiked, many students opted to become part of the “Green Team” by carrying an old grocery bag to collect any trash found along the trail. Not only did Beals students get outside to observe, play, and learn about the geology and natural history of their local preserve during this two-day program, but also they built collaborative relationships with their peers, developed a sense of appreciation and stewardship for where they live, and left the preserve more litter-free than when they arrived.

MOS is a great asset to area schools. The staff are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and professional, and the content: interesting and educational.
— a Beals Elementary staff-member

Do you know someone who would be interested in MOS programming? Learn more about our Educational Programs and contact us!

For more news like this, please sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter here.