Milbridge Elementary 5th-Graders Apply Photosynthesis to the Future of Milbridge

By Hazel Stark

Sketching observations about changes in their schoolyard since March

Sketching observations about changes in their schoolyard since March

While it had been just three months since these students at Milbridge Elementary experienced a Maine Outdoor School program (to learn about that day, check out the article about it here), their schoolyard sure had changed. No longer wearing winter boots, hats, and mittens, these 5th-graders were prepared with shorts and t-shirts during this early June 2017 program.

Reviewing what they remembered from the March program, students excitedly shared their knowledge about bird adaptations and how resources affect populations. Ready to apply that knowledge in a new season, they headed outdoors. With clipboards in tow, students spread out in the shaded forest behind their school in order to make observations about their surroundings. They noticed many  changes, including more bird sounds, biting insects, and lush green plant growth all around them.

In order to relate that green growth to what they already knew about resource availability, they moved from quiet observation to an active relay game that illustrated the process of photosynthesis (instructions for this game can be found here). They became carbon dioxide and water molecules and transformed into oxygen and sugars through the power of the sun. They immediately grasped the power of sunlight in providing energy to a variety of lives--from the goldenrod leaf’s survival to the snowshoe hare they watched consuming it.

I learned that as simple as plants may seem, they’re actually a big part of life.
— a 5th-grader

They wondered, how does photosynthesis help humans? They realized it helped allow vegetables to exist, but they were even more shocked when they realized the connection between cows and grass. “If it weren’t for photosynthesis, you wouldn’t have steak!” The gasp was audible.

Next, they were challenged with building a model future Milbridge using the power of photosynthesis to meet everyone’s needs. In three teams, they spread out in the forest using found materials to build the future of their community. One group focused on increasing the number of farms that could feed people while using leaves on top of their buildings to represent the solar panels that would provide the town’s energy needs. Another group focused on harvesting local wood to build their school and other buildings, realizing how renewable that local resource is, then even made plans for replanting the numbers of trees they had cut down. The third group located some litter that they reused to help hold their structures together, recognizing that the process of recycling would cause less harm to their community. All groups focused on local food and building materials without prompting. When asked what they learned during the program, one student said: “I learned that you can help the community if you use something that you can replace.”

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