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Studying in the great outdoors

Students Brianna Stonebraker, left, and Hannah Granby check out impressions left on a tree in the wetlands by Snoqualmie Elementary School. Students took part in a recent day-long outdoor learning experience. - Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Students Brianna Stonebraker, left, and Hannah Granby check out impressions left on a tree in the wetlands by Snoqualmie Elementary School. Students took part in a recent day-long outdoor learning experience.
— image credit: Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record

The great outdoors became the classroom for more than 100 Valley children last week as they learned about nature from Mount Si High School’s advanced placement biology students.

Every year, Fall City Elementary School third graders take part in a day-long outdoor learning experience where they use hands-on activities to investigate animals, plants and everything else under the sun or the clouds — the show goes on, rain or shine.

High school students developed lesson plans for a series of stations that were spread out in the wetlands behind Snoqualmie Elementary School. They pointed out animal tracks and birds, and gave tips on outdoor survival skills. Coordinators said connecting students with the environment is especially important nowadays, when people are spending more time plugged into technology and less time playing outside.

“It’s a great way to expose the students to their backyard, the ecosystems, the flora, the fauna, and to increase their awareness and appreciation for what they have here,” said Mount Si biology teacher Andrew Rapin, who helped his students prepare their 10-minute lessons.

He said the younger students look up to the high schoolers, whose enthusiasm for biology can rub off on them.

“It really leaves an impression in the third grade students’ minds to have mentors who can convey their interest, passion and knowledge to the students,” Rapin said. “It hopefully encourages them to go into science classes.”

The older students got something out of it, too: “I have a newfound respect for teachers,” said junior Matthew Olson.

Christina Jobmann, a senior, had fun interacting with the children.

“The kids are really attentive and like to learn. They’re asking good questions,” she said.

As part of the program’s interdisciplinary approach, the third-graders were encouraged to unleash their curiosity about the natural world, and use their burgeoning writing skills to record their findings in the journals they toted from station to station.

“Questions are huge. We want them to ask them. That’s where our development comes from,” said third-grade teacher Melissa Danberg, who has been bringing her students to outdoor learning experiences for 25 years. She and Rapin hope the program will expand in coming years.

“We have so many resources in the Snoqualmie watershed, and this is such a great opportunity to connect students with the natural world, and increase their sense of responsibility as stewards for this area,” Rapin said.

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