Thursday, May 16, 2013

Forest Ecology with students from Winn Elementary

Last week I met students from Winn Elementary at the Florence Maxwell Audubon Woods Preserve.  This 40 acre property owned and maintained by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.  The Florence Maxwell preserve is covered with a mature American Beech/Sugar Maple Forest on its upper regions and changes to a Floodplain Forest along the Chippewa River.

Over the course of the school year the 3rd - 5th grade students at Winn Elementary have participated in our Environmental Education Program and have learned about various Michigan habitat types and the species of plants and animals that can be found in those habitats.  This field trip is an opportunity to tie together many of those lessons in a field environment.

Each of the three classrooms was on site for approximately one hour and had a list of tasks that they were supposed to accomplish.  The classes were broken down into small groups.  Each group was given materials that included clipboards, calculators, tape measures, and colored pencils.  Each student received a notebook of activities to complete.  This was not only an exercise in woodland ecology, but also in cooperation.  Those groups that worked well together were able to accomplish much more than those groups that struggled to cooperate.

The first activity that students were expected to complete was to determine the Diameter Breast Height (DBH) of five trees around a given point.  DBH has traditionally been measured in the United States at 4.5 feet above ground level.  Students were given a standard tape measure to find both the distance from the central point (which could be used to determine density of trees per area) and the circumference of the tree. 
Once they found the circumference, they could then divide by pi (3.14) to find the diameter.

This was the first activity assigned to the students and the only one that required them to stay in one spot for an extended time.  The other activities were designed to get the students to explore the woods.  Before the students arrived I used marker flags to identify a number of different species of wildflowers and other native plants.  They were expected to draw and record the height of at least one of these plants.  They could also identify and draw a leaf, either on the ground or growing on a tree.  Another page in their notebook was for recording living and non-living things that they found in the forest.  There were also pages in their notebook for recording any animals that they saw or signs that pointed toward their presence.  Finally the students had several blank pages for drawing or recording notes about what they found.

False morel mushroom

Section of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Students removing tire found in the woods - students cleaned up two tires and filled a large garbage bag with trash

Student drawings

Leaf-footed Bug

Large-Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Green Stink Bug

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

So what did the students find in the woods? Animals included snakes, frogs, salamanders, birds, insects, and spiders.  Two groups of students reported seeing a striped skunk in a hollow stump.  Wildflowers included Large-flowered Trillium, Downy Yellow Violet, Wood Anemone, Broad-leafed Toothwort, Periwinkle, Skunk Cabbage, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and more.  They also found and removed two old automotive tires from the woods and filled a large garbage bag with trash.

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