A Superior Location
January 16, 2017
Lake Superior and its surrounding natural resources are bountiful with opportunities to learn and have fun. It is the largest body of freshwater in the world and has over 80 types of fish. The lake effect goes beyond the weather. Lake Superior has a hand in the lives of its surrounding animals and people. It is a wonderful resource that is just a hop, skip and a jump away from South Shore – or in other words, a little more than a mile. The school is also walking distance to natural resources such as forests and rivers. Taking a field trip to these resources is not a complicated affair. There does not need to be a large amount of time set aside, or planning that needs to be done, for an excursion to take place. With these places nearby students can experience another side of learning.
Students used their ease of access to nature when they pulled Spotted Knapweed from the beach alongside the Port Wing pier. Spotted Knapweed is an invasive species that was introduced in the sediments that were used to repair the pier, a project completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This plant is harmful to the area because it crowds out the native plants. Spotted Knapweed also has very short roots, unlike the grasses that it was replacing. The length of roots is important in certain situations. This was one of those situations. Long roots help hold the shape of the beach. Without the long roots, the beach gets disturbed. This is what lead Ms. Hoagland to periodically take a group of students out and start pulling the invasive weed. Once pulled, the plants were burned to prevent further spreading. This was a great activity for the students to get outdoors and learn about their local plant life and how it can affect the functionality of a landform. By pulling weeds, the students combined volunteering, service work, and education.
An additional group of students recently started a research project in the boreal forest under the guidance of Ms. Hoagland. The area they are studying had a fire a couple of years ago, creating the environment that is being studied. The students will be comparing the burned forest to non burned forest. The boreal forest is just a couple of miles away, walking distance even, from South Shore. Having easy access to a resource like that is wonderful in any setting, especially an educational one.
The Flagg River, an estuary connecting to Lake Superior, is an easily walkable distance from the school. Several science classes have routinely visited it to implement water testing. Each student gets assigned a type of test to undertake; some test the water clarity and others test the temperature. All the data is then compiled and logged. What the students get out of this is a nice walk and experience with scientific analysis.
The elementary school also utilizes this great location. Mrs. Suo has discovered that both she and her students love taking advantage of our proximity to so many natural resources. The first unit fourth grade is studying in science this year is titled, “Structures of Life.” The students are learning about the life cycles of plants and animals. Mrs. Suo is always looking for ways to take her students learning beyond the classroom. “In order to observe the life cycle of animals, the students are raising crayfish in our classroom. Rather than ordering live crayfish online, as was instructed by the FOSS science curriculum, we walked down to the slough to catch our own. The students will now care for the crayfish as they grow and observe their changes.” The class then began to care for and observe their catches. By doing this the students get to learn about the crayfish lifecycle. The students have front row seats to the changes that their crayfishes will experience throughout their lives. This includes growth, exoskeleton shedding, and the laying of eggs. The fourth graders are excited about this project and show genuine interest in the process. They have questions and has a result of those questions, observations. Projects like this make connections between education and nature.
Second grade teacher Margaret McKnight also gets her students learning in the outdoors “This year in second grade, I have been trying to get the second graders outside at least once a week for a science project we’re calling our phenology project.” According to the National Wildlife federation, phenology is “the study of how the biological world times natural events.” The second graders keep journals that are home to their observations and writings on the project. Another instance of the class heading out into nature is their excursion to the nearby Twin Falls. This short trip occurs in the fall and in the spring. All morning the students are out participating in water quality testing. They do this by hunting for macroinvertebrates, which are backboneless bugs. The findings of the students clues them in on the health of the water. The bugs are then categorized and graphed. All of this is done a short distance from the school.
In addition to academics, sports teams also make use of the surrounding natural area. The cross-country team gets off the pavement and hits the dirt roads that twist through the neighboring forests. Their runs are accompanied by beautiful fall foliage and the soft chirping of birds. On hot days they can transition to the beach and run along lake Superior. Senior runner Emma Ostrenga showed what these runs mean to her when she said “I like beach runs because the uneven running surface challenges me as a runner.” Cross country is not the only sport that heads down to the lake. Volleyball is played indoors, but that doesn’t stop the South Shore volleyball team from getting out into nature. In the summer, they head out to the beach to play beach volleyball.
Natural resources are such an important part of life. Having access to them is something that our school has, and employs. Fourth grade student Denny Lind emphasized this when he said “we’re lucky to have the great lakes here.” We can do so much with the nature in our area. Having a school in the center of it all creates a place that is unique and prime for education. “We’re lucky here at South Shore. were just in the middle of it all. We have wetlands, we have woods, we have lots of space and we have materials to use and explore.” said second grade teacher Margaret McKnight. Lakes, forests, and rivers are natural classrooms: They are great places to learn and when the time is right, have fun.