Highlights About Our School Forests
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.
This December, 5th and 6th grade students, along with teacher Tom Frericks, at William Kelley Elementary in Silver Bay, headed into Bird Hill School Forest to tackle math standards by doing a real live timber cruise. To prep his students, Tom invited Lake County forester Justin Mayne to demonstrate the tools the students will be using. Employing activities from the School Forest activity board and tools borrowed from the School Forest program, students practiced using clinometers, prisms, diameter tapes, and increment borers. Soon, the students will don snowshoes to traverse the 3-foot snow layer and stake out 10 plots that will measure 20 x 20 feet. Groups of 5 students each will study their plot for 2 hours, while presenters rotate through the groups to help students measure tree circumference, height, and age; estimate the number of trees in their plot; identify species; and compare air temperature with soil temperature. After the cruising data is collected and analyzed, the students will compare their findings with Justin's from his professional timber cruise. The data will be used to guide a timber harvest which the woodshop instructor plans to conduct this winter with a small portable sawmill purchased by the district. Finally, the wood will be used for assorted projects.
Hugo School Forest
Only 60 feet wide, but nearly 400 feet long, the Hugo School Forest is essentially a former windbreak planted in the days when the town of Hugo was surrounded by mostly farms. Today, Hugo Elementary is surrounded by condos and subdivisions, and the teachers have adopted this narrow forest east of the building as their own. Hugo Elementary serves preK-1 students. The 1.2-acre site, mostly planted red pine and deciduous understory trees, is perfect for young children to explore and learn. The school intends to allow children to explore the natural world, and will improve the site by woodchipping trails and creating openings for nature play spaces. After students graduate from Hugo, they advance to Oneka Elementary, which serves grades 2–5, and is adjacent to the 25-acre Oneka-Hugo School Forest.