Students get out of the classroom and create nature monitoring site
by Jack Deming
Oct 24, 2013 | 2089 views | 0 0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dover School 5/6 teacher Susan Neuman, back left, and students Cassidy Gallivan, Bailey Cuminsky, Adam Sniatkowski, Cullen O’hern, and Miles Anton record their findings in the woods behind the school.
Dover School 5/6 teacher Susan Neuman, back left, and students Cassidy Gallivan, Bailey Cuminsky, Adam Sniatkowski, Cullen O’hern, and Miles Anton record their findings in the woods behind the school.
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DOVER- Among the many great reasons to live in Vermont is the vast amount of the great outdoors available for exploration. For Susan Neuman’s fifth- and sixth-grade class, the woods behind Dover School have become a point of fascination as well as a second classroom, one that has mixed together science, chemistry, geometry, and even a civics lesson along the way.

During a September visit to Marsh-Billings- Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Neuman’s class got to experience firsthand how scientists monitor biological and environmental changes throughout the year. Neuman’s class saw how scientists monitor the changes in everything from trees and soil to wildlife and rainfall. Neuman asked her class if they would be interested in creating their own monitoring site, and the consensus was an enthusiastic “Yes.”

Since the second week of school, Neuman’s class has ventured into the woods twice a week, conducting experiments and taking samples of nature from two 15-by-15-foot sites. One week they tested the soil’s pH levels to judge whether it was acidic, while another they studied leaves to find out how their veins work. Neuman said the project would go on year-round, with the students strapping on snowshoes when the snow falls.

“I love all your results and that you’re learning about photosynthesis and the chemistry of it,” Neuman tells her students, “but you’re being scientists, the same thing the scientists are doing at the national parks. You’re doing it right here.”

After every visit to the woods, students perform their experiments using the scientific method as well as various tools from magnifying glasses to universal pH meters. Neuman’s class will use their results for comparison with the way nature acts in other seasons. On Wednesday, the students were collecting data on twigs and leaves to understand why trees react the way they do as the weather gets colder. “What you do is wear warmer clothes,” said Neuman, “and in a way that’s what the tree is doing. You also eat less ice cream and maybe eat more soup, and the tree is changing its eating habits as well.”

Hanging out in nature in an educational setting is starting to change the way these students see their surroundings. “It’s cool the little things you find like different dirt, and centipedes, and spiders, even though you could see that anyway,” said Adam Sniatkowski, who is experimenting on a tree he believes was struck by lightning. “We get to see how it changes over a different period of time, and it was cool to see how it can get change, just one day after it storms,” added Anthony Franceschetti.

Neuman’s class was split into two groups, which each picked a section of woods 15 feet long by 15 feet wide. In just over a month of studying nature the students have collected leaves, samples from decomposing logs, spiders, and had a run-in with a garter snake. By understanding the woods, these students know not to disturb nature but to take care of it, because it’s home to other creatures.

Students have also used computers to help their studies, using Inaturalist.com to help identify their findings. “We found a fungus and took a picture of it with our computers,” said Bailey Cuminsky. “Then we went to the Inaturalist site to find what type it was. It was wet and had very bright colors but as it got drier and drier you could barely see the color anymore.”

Neuman’s class has also been posting their results on the school’s website, and hopes to provide their results on the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller site, a plan that provided a civics lesson for the class.

“The week of the government shutdown, we discussed what happens if the government were to shutdown,” said Neuman. “One of the kids asked, ‘Will we personally feel it?’ and I said probably not, and the shutdown happened that Tuesday.”

Thursday afternoon of that week Neuman attempted to email the class’s results to a ranger at the park and, sure enough “I got a standard government ‘They’re on furlough, she can’t get her mail’ notice, and I said ‘Kids, guess what? We feel this shutdown.’ I didn’t even think of it but there was that definite current events lesson in there.”
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