NORTHVILLE – Research shows that learning outside has numerous benefits for students.
It’s just one of the reasons Northville High School science teacher Jamie Groff Dickinson decided to get about half the students in the small, Fulton County district involved in a project to create various outdoor learning spaces.
“We know going outside increases social-emotional learning,” Dickinson said. “Their moods are increased. Their academic performance is increased. There’s so much research that shows outdoor learning is beneficial even for [just] 15 to 20 minutes. ”
On Wednesday morning juniors, seniors and kindergartners had their opportunity to work on the project. They planted a garden with the hopes of creating a space where butterflies, including the monarch butterfly, which is on the endangered species list, can flourish.
The idea for the learning spaces came about following COVID.
“Through COVID, we were stuck on technology quite a bit, so I just felt like kids really needed to slow down and look around,” she said.
While she had some educational programs she wanted to run outside, she lacked an area where she could actually do so. That’s when she came up with the idea of building spaces that opened the door for students to learn a little bit more in the wild.
In addition to the aforementioned pollinator garden, the fifth graders built a frog and toad habitat. The class involving advanced technology is making the bases for the weather instruments station. There’s also an art class that is constructing signs and bird baths to create a bluebird trail.
As an environmental and earth science teacher, Dickinson’s favorite space is the mini field station that will be built along Great Sacandaga Lake. In order to build the station, Dickinson said she had to get permission from both the village of Northville and the town of Northampton to apply for a work permit, which the Hudson River Regulating District just approved.
“That’s going to house a lot of supplies where we can actually go to the beach during school and do water testing macroinvertebrates, we can check for different aquatic insects and things like that,” she said.
The goal of it all is to show students how much they are stewards of the environment.
“I want them to realize their impact on the environment and I want them to take pride in their lake and take pride in their village, just understand all the things around us that impact biodiversity,” Dickinson said.
Elementary Principal Tammy Reidell said the space will only continue to grow under Dickinson’s guidance and benefit many students.
“Outdoor learning increases children’s tendencies to care about and conserve their environment, which is a relevant concept for all of us,” Reidell said.
“She has worked diligently to align the Next Generation Science Standards with the stations that will be and are being created. Most grade levels will be able to utilize a station that fits into a science unit they are teaching. This will enhance the learning process, as well as increase engagement. ”
Another purpose of the stations is to get students of all ages interacting with each other.
“So when our second graders learn about frogs and toads, they can talk to our fifth graders who built the frog and toad habitat for them – so they’ll be interacting as well as interacting with the space and mediums that are out there,” she said.
Northville Middle and High School Principal Samuel Ratti said seeing it come together and the involvement from students at varying levels is really exciting.
“Ms. Dickinson has been working with the art teachers and their students and even had the kindergarteners outside helping to seed and water the garden, ”Ratti said. “We often think of student engagement as students talking to one another and their teachers, but watching a group of high school students show the elementary students how to plant seeds and tend to the garden area has redefined what it means to be engaged.”
Dickinson said by offering students a way to learn science that isn’t just indoors will encourage more students to get involved in science related jobs, some right even in the Adirondacks.
The space can be sustained for years to come too, Dickinson said, noting that when pieces need to be fixed, students can work on solving those problems, while continuing to use the space for programs.
Throughout the entire project, which Dickinson hopes to have almost completely finished in the spring, the community has supported the faculty and staff. Cindy Close, a master gardener helped with planting the various plants donated by community members, while Dickinson partnered with Allen & Palmer Hardware in the village to use their tools.
“Jamie and her team’s attention to detail from ideating to budgeting and executing the vision for creating an outdoor learning environment for our students was exemplary, ”said Superintendent Sarah Chauncey. “Student learning is aligned to specific goals and outcomes. The site she designed showcases the process that brought the OLC (outdoor learning center) to life and exemplifies the types of experiences our staff create to ensure our students are supported as curious, creative, engaged learners. ”
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