Highlights About Our School Forests
A freshly killed deer was found last month by Laporte School Forest site coordinator Dale Klingenberg. The carcass lay about 20 feet off the main trail, nestled in a grove of jack and red pine. Although it was still snowing, fresh tracks revealed that several animals had very recently visited the site: crow, coyote, and wolf. Dan Wiley, the DNR forester accompanying Dale on the walk, surmised that it was a wolf-killed deer. Teachable moments like these abound in school forests, and Dale plans to use this one with his high school students to teach ecology in action.
Given the permission and power tools, even a lone volunteer can make a huge dent in a School Forest's buckthorn patch. That's exactly what was seen at TrinityLone Oak's School Forest. Teacher Julie Wilke reports, "Last fall, a volunteer from the church came in and went crazy—lashing out buckthorn left and right. He made paths in the forest, and even brought in some new trees to plant. Now, from the school, we can once again see all the way to the pond." One teacher noted that it looked the way it did 30 years ago when she was in elementary school at Trinity Lone Oak. Instead of a buckthorn wall, now that the space is opened up and people are using it. The first grade teacher put up a bat house. Teachers and kids are exploring. During Grandparents' Day, students gave forest tours and a bunch of grandparents went out and loved it!
Inspiration is hard to find when your window looks out at nothing but a courtyard full of snow. So the School Forest committee at Jefferson Elementary in Blaine brainstormed a way to bring a little pizazz to the outdoor scene. They decided to bring in a single tree and then let students deck it out with a smorgasbord of goodies for wildlife.
First, teachers got permission to erect a tree. Then students who attend the before-and after-school Adventures Plus classes worked hard to create feeders from pinecones, seed, popcorn, and shortening (a substitute for peanut butter to respect student allergies). They found that seeds without shells work best to prevent messes and potentially clog the drain pipe in the center of the courtyard. Finally they hung and draped the goodies around the tree to attract birds. To sustain the effort, the group is also involving parents by asking for donations of seed and feeders.
Wildlife has discovered the tree—now teachers are having students observe and write about what they see in the courtyard.
In fall 2013, Roseau 10th grade students gathered in the Roseau School Forest to tackle some tough academic concepts using real-world observations and skills. Leveraging local resources, the forestry field day organizers once again enlisted help from DNR foresters.
To address the science standards, school forest coordinator Aaron Nelson, asked a DNR forester Cassandra to introduce Ecological Classification System concepts by leading a nature hike that highlights groups of plants and growing conditions that students find along the way. The hike included lessons on soil types, tree identification, wildlife most commonly associated with an area, ecosystems, and the science of forest management.
Another group, led by a DNR Forester, learned how to find and record coordinates in the woods using GPS units purchased by the school through a grant. This activity involved orienteering through a course of points, finding pre-determined points in the woods, and navigating a perimeter to determine the precise acreage for logging purposes.
A third group worked with a DNR forester to appraise timber by identifying and measuring trees using measuring tapes, diameter tapes, prisms, and clinometers.
Finally, students gathered around a portable sawmill to watch two logs, identified in their timber appraisal, turn into lumber. A local private operator delivered and staffed the sawmill. Again, students are tasked with calculating board feet and practice measuring skills, while opening a discussion about all the wonderful products and careers that arise from timber.