by Hazel Stark
Starting in early September 2018, all 3rd and 5th-graders at Milbridge Elementary have been enjoying weekly Thursday Forays with Maine Outdoor School in collaboration with the Transforming Rural Experience in Education (TREE) program. Students in each grade spend one hour per week outside exploring and learning from nature and each other around their school. Every fourth week, the 3rd and 5th-graders combine for a two-hour experience, usually a field trip, to share their experiences with each other and learn from a different ecosystem.
While the routine for each grade has been similar, their areas of focus have been different. Both grades made regular phenology observations--noting seasonal changes in the world around them--and played games, explored nature, and wrote and drew what they saw in their journals.
3rd-graders began by reading Island Readers and Writers’ book Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness by Donn Fendler in class and connecting a child’s survival story in the Maine woods to the survival strategies of different species. Each week they focused on a different category of living thing: mammals, birds, macroinvertebrates, plants, and more by finding evidence of those living things and making their own journal entries about their observations, referencing field guides for more information. In December, students selected one species they wanted to learn more about and each created a full-color “survivor profile” to contribute to a class field guide to the different “Maine survivors” that live right outside their school.
The science curriculum for 5th grade focuses on the classifications of living things, so each week these students explored the outdoors in search of living things that were classified together. For example, they looked for members of the Fungus kingdom, examples of vascular vs. non-vascular plants, forest birds vs. shorebirds, macroinvertebrates vs. mammals, spruce trees vs. balsam fir trees, and more. These students created “species accounts” of the different living things they found to illustrate the important characteristics of each of those classifications and, like the 3rd-graders, contributed to their own classroom field guide to the different living things found around their school.
On the final day of the fall Thursday Foray series, all 3rd and 5th-graders walked to the newly opened Milbridge Commons on a snowy 27 degree F day to share their field guide entries with each other. We learned about how much red foxes weigh, the range of blue jays, the food preferences of carpenter ants, the look of a maple leaf, and so much more. Thursday Forays will continue with a focus on winter.
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