E.E.’s Philosopher King

E.E.’s Philosopher King

Photo courtesy of Mike Brown.

Not One More Cute Project for the Kids:

Neal Maine’s Educational Vision

 

by Gregory A. Smith
Lewis & Clark College, Professor Emeritus

PART ONE

eal Maine, now in his late-70s is an iconic figure for many environmental educators in the state of Oregon. Early in his teaching career in Seaside, he decided to shelve the textbooks in his biology classroom and base his teaching practice on the premise that “If we couldn’t do it, we weren’t doing it.” He then focused on getting his students outside onto the beach and into the estuaries of the northern Oregon coast as well as onto their city streets and into public meetings, believing that the way to stimulate deep engagement on the part of his students required personalizing what they were learning by designing educational experiences characterized by immersion, involvement, and meaningfulness.

Central to Neal’s approach is a belief that functional communities provide the authentic curriculum that should occupy the attention of educators and their students. The job of the teacher is to create experiences that provide young people with the opportunity to access the processes that make a community work. Also central is Neal’s belief that students are among a community’s most valuable intellectual resources. As he observes, “Where else in the community can you get 20 or more people in the same room that can do calculus?” Instead of teachers seeing their task as getting students ready to do something in the future, they ought to be engaging them in work and experience that is valuable to the community right now.

I first met Neal in the mid-1990s on a visit organized by my Lewis & Clark College colleague, science educator Kip Ault.   Over the previous few years, Kip had worked with Neal in a variety of capacities and they had become friends. Well aware of my interest in environmental and ecological education, Kip figured I needed to get to know more about what Neal was up to.

The thing I remember most about that first meeting was Neal’s commitment to inducting children into the processes that citizens able to support a democracy need to know. He asserted that just as supportive strategies are put into place to teach kids how to play baseball (t-balls, pitching machines, smaller diamonds, fewer innings), similar supports and experiences ought to be used to teach young people how to be citizens. With regard to baseball, children learn how to play the sport not by reading about it but by getting on a baseball field and pitching, throwing, catching running, and making sure players on the opposing team are called out. The same kind of learning in context should happen in their community. To that end, he had overseen the development of memoranda of agreement with the city and county to tap children’s energy and expertise for community projects.

What I learned from Neal profoundly shaped my thinking about place- and community-based education and the impact that treating children as the citizens they are right now rather than in the future could have on both educational practice but also their civic practice as grownups. Neal claims that the most important thing children can offer to public dialogue is the fact that they aren’t adults; their thinking has not yet been fenced in by convention and conformity, and they have the capacity to offer fresh insights, creative solutions, and energy to the life of their community. Given my concerns about the link between schools and sustainability, I felt as though I had hit the jackpot.

Photo courtesy of Mike Brown.

Other people concerned about similar issues felt the same way after meeting Neal. When Paul Nachtigal, a widely respected expert in rural education from Colorado and the president of the Annenberg Rural Challenge, a national effort in the late 1990s aimed at helping schools and communities get better together, heard of Neal’s work, he quickly enlisted him as a board member of what was then a fledgling organization. I recently stumbled upon the business card Neal gave me when we first met, and it focused on this institutional association. I didn’t know anything about the Rural Challenge at the time, but I subsequently became a board member of the Rural School and Community Trust, the organization it morphed into after the initial funding from the Annenberg Foundation came to an end in the early 2000s. Both the Rural Challenge and then the Trust were advocates for place-based education and provided important support for early adopters of this approach, an approach influenced in important ways by the work Neal had been imagining and then enacting from Cannon Beach, Oregon to Long Beach, Washington.

In the summer of 2013, Neal invited me to spend another day with him at the coast to acquaint me with some of the projects that represented the essence of his work as an educator. As he mentioned at the time, he didn’t know how much longer he’d be around, and he wanted to make sure that some of his ideas outlasted him. He hoped that deepening my own knowledge about things he’d done and helped start would increase the likelihood that this might happen. To that end, I recorded our conversation as we traveled from site to site thinking that it might eventually make its way into an article. A mutual acquaintance of Neal’s and mine, Sylvia Parker (formerly a Rural Challenge steward and now an education professor at the University of Wyoming), helped get the five-hour recording transcribed, and I finally got around to rereading, coding, and analyzing what was shared that day in the spring and summer of 2018. Larry Beutler at Clearing Magazine expressed a willingness to publish what I was able to distill, and I set myself the task of trying to capture some of the central principles that undergirded Neal’s work in the hope that other Pacific Northwest educators might continue experimenting with some of the practices that have inspired me and many others both here and elsewhere for years.

In addition to his work as a biology teacher and football coach at Seaside High School, Neal spent more than a decade supporting teachers interested in adopting his out-of-classroom approaches after being requested to do so by the superintendent of the local school district. His impact on students—often those he described as being too creative to plow through the regular curriculum—had not gone unnoticed. They sought out his classes because “they had heard rumors that you got to do something there” and wanted to be part of the action. What they got to do had really meaning and purpose. While on the surface their work could be seen as little more than a “cute project,” what was actually happening went far deeper. They were being shown that their voices mattered and that their community could be made better if they spoke up and got involved. The following collection of place- and community-based learning experiences are emblematic of the educational vision Neal nurtured in the district.

 

A Compendium of Educational Experiments

Little Pompey Wetlands. Little Pompey Wetlands is located just a few blocks from the town center of Cannon Beach, a resort community nine miles south of Seaside. Somewhat more than two decades ago the city was interested in developing a nature trail for residents and tourists in the vicinity of the wastewater treatment facility and had hired a consultant to assist in this project. Aware of this effort, Neal approached the city manager about whether students might be able to participate in some aspect of this work as a means of honoring the memorandum of agreement that called on city and county agencies to make use of students whenever possible.   The city manager was interested; Neal then found a teacher willing to rework her spring curriculum so that many of its goals could be met through the project. They presented their plan to the board, gained permission to proceed, and then with the students decided to create a sign about the wetlands and its species that could be shared with visitors.

This project required not only gaining knowledge about wetlands ecology in general and the variety of plants and animals found in the area (including birds such as red-winged blackbirds, shovelers, eagles, and fox sparrows, and during the winter, an occasional coyote or Roosevelt elk) but also the tasks of writing the text for the sign, naming the wetlands, overseeing the spending of $2000 allocated for the sign’s production and development, shaping and assessing the work of the artist hired to realize their vision, and selecting a sign maker to produce it. In most conventional classrooms, this process would have stopped with knowledge acquisition and most often a test or perhaps individual or group reports. In this instance, students not only had to collectively determine the most critical information to display; they also needed to act as a citizen committee responsible for the wise use of public dollars and as the employer of adults who had contracted with them to fulfill specific services. A project like this treats students as the citizens they already are and gives them the opportunity to practice decision-making skills generally reserved for adults, a task few people, regardless of age, have been prepared for in school.

Naming the wetlands introduced a whole new realm of adult activity when students and their teacher learned they couldn’t simply give a name to a wetlands but had to go through a complex legal process. Investigating other wetlands in Oregon, they could find none that had been named after a child. An earlier unit had acquainted them with Sacajawea and the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery; they decided to honor her infant son Little Pompey by naming the wetlands after him. Their commitment to a name they had chosen themselves propelled them through the legal requirements of the state and introduced them to processes often required to accomplish meaningful work in a community.

Democracies depend on the capacity of citizens to engage in civic life in these ways. Not uncommonly, the knowledge required to do so is limited to people whose parents understand the rules of public participation since these skills and insights are not made available to the general population in any systematic way. By giving school children the chance to acquire such knowledge and skill, educators like Neal Maine are inviting a broader group of people into the decision-making process and cultivating in them the ways of thinking, speaking, and acting needed to accomplish tasks they believe to be important.   More than simple participation in marches and demonstrations, as important as these activities might be, “this is what democracy looks like.”

Friends of Haystack Rock. Central to Neal’s educational approach is its emphasis on the value of finding ways to situate learning experiences outside the school in the community or region, and in some instances creating new institutional structures to accomplish this end. Fittingly, the next part of our tour took us to a bluff overlooking the beach beside Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach’s geological claim to fame. Scores of people were clustered in small groups on the sand, looking through viewing scopes, examining displays on tables, listening to presentations. Neal explained that what I was seeing was the work of staff and volunteers at the Friends of Haystack Rock, an organization that has a cooperative agreement with the city to provide interpretive services to locals and tourists interested in learning more about the natural features of the area. Special attention is directed to the lowest tides of the year during the spring and summer when the marine gardens surrounding Haystack Rock are more accessible.

In existence now for more than 30 years, Friends of Haystack Rock grew out of Sea Week, a project Neal had started in the 1980s. During Sea Week, regular classes were suspended and students from throughout the school district would make presentations to the public about projects they had completed related to their home environment with the aim of preserving and protecting it.   Sea Week as it was implemented then no longer exists, but the Friends of Haystack Rock essentially provides the same kind of educational experiences but over a more extensive period of time with the support of volunteers, many of whom are young adults. Its volunteers also become the teachers of the community’s children about marine resources, offering programs both in classrooms and then on the beach. Although the school district ended up not supporting this effort over the long-term, its advantages were apparent to city leaders and an ongoing collection of volunteers who have sustained it now for three decades. Given the fickle and short-lived nature of many educational reforms, organizations like the Friends of Haystack Rock offer a way to perpetuate educational experiences aimed at enhancing the public’s knowledge about their region.

Coastal Studies and Technology Center. For ten years, the Coastal Studies and Technology Center, located at Seaside High School, offered another way to strengthen the relationship between the school and community. Under the leadership of science and technology teacher Mike Brown, students were able to get course credit for engaging in research projects requested by either the city or even federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. The Center provided the workspace and intellectual support that allowed students to contact resource people at the police department, the local hospital, or other governmental offices. One group of students, for example, investigated the economic impact of the Seaside youth riots that occurred over three Labor Days in a row in the early 1960s. I accompanied another group of Upward Bound students working through the Center one summer day in the early 2000s as they mapped the location of woody debris in the Neawanna estuary. Using GIS equipment, they tagged and identified the location of the debris, data that were later recorded on maps of the area that would be used to preserve and enhance salmon habitat.

The Center functioned as a non-profit entity within the context of the school. Its success in pursuing grant dollars and its independence from traditional decision-making structures in the district, however, led to the imposition of constraints that eventually resulted in a narrowing of its focus to technology education. Still, for several years it demonstrated the way that an organization that treats young people as researchers and actors rather than passive recipients of knowledge passed down by others can create engaging learning experiences and do so in ways that benefit others.

Earth Odyssey. Neal was also instrumental in encouraging two fourth grade teachers at the elementary school in Gearhart, a small town just north of Seaside, to collaborate on the creation of a curriculum grounded in the history and natural phenomena of the north Oregon coast. Modeled on a summer camp program called Sunship Earth, the teachers ended up naming their year-long educational adventure, Earth Odyssey. The day of my tour, we met over lunch with Jan Weiting, who had taught in this program for three years. The work of Jan and her partner Larry Nelson exemplify ways that Neal’s vision can be incorporated into the classroom over the course of an entire year. Students’ work in the fall, for example, started with a study of entomology. They moved on from there to the archeology of the North Coast and the Indians who have lived in the area for over 10,000 years, Lewis and Clark’s experience of spending the winter at Fort Clatsop a dozen miles north of the school, and then on to the mountain men and the Oregon Trail. Nearly all of the traditional subjects could be taught through these broad topics tied into the district-prescribed curriculum for fourth graders. Over and beyond this curriculum, students planted trees that are now a small forest outside their portable classroom, painted a mural on one of the building’s walls, and dug and planted a pond. After school Jan and Larry would take smaller groups of interested students on additional field trips to investigate things like sea kelp or to lend a hand with conservation projects, learning activities that brought them recognition as conversation educators of the year by the US Department of Agriculture.

An especially significant activity involved the annual publishing of the Coastal Geographic, a collection of student writing based on interviews with local characters like a famous clam digger. As Neal observed, “The interviews of the people were just so personal and written in such a way that only a kid could talk about, the ordinariness of a person as opposed to the world record they just set.” Although only published for three years, the Coastal Geographic served as a model for the Neawanna Journal, a project that was adopted by a high school teacher who worked with students who were potential dropouts. The students interviewed people who had been born on the Neawanna River in the 1900s, took photos, and wrote up their stories. Their efforts won them an award from the library delivered at a public reception. Neal remarked that “The kids had so much ownership, it was just fabulous.” He added, however, “What sense does this make to have to be so bad at school that you get to produce something that the people who are really good [at school] wouldn’t have a chance at?”

Other Neal-inspired learning experiences. During his years as a teacher support staff in the Seaside School District, Neal found many ways to provide similar instructional opportunities to a broad range of students. One year a group of seventh-grade teachers approached Neal about helping them get funding to take students from their health classes to Portland to see the “plastic lady” at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and learn more about bodily systems. Neal persuaded them to pursue a less expensive and potentially more productive idea—a health fair the students would put on for senior citizens in which student groups would be responsible for running booths focused on physical systems like digestion or circulation or respiration. Willing to try out this idea, teachers enlisted the support of staff at the hospital to instruct students and provide equipment like respirators and blood pressure machines they could legally use with people who visited their booths. A day was then set aside for the fair, advertising went out to the public, and arrangements were made to hold the event at the senior citizens center. The fair ended up being well attended by community elders interested in helping the kids. When Neal heard one of the older teachers saying “It’s the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed seeing kids fight,” he asked about what she was talking about. She said. “They were fighting over whose turn it was to do the test next.”

Another year, a seventh-grade social studies teacher got in touch with Neal about a project he had in mind that was not much different from the trip to see the “plastic lady.” Neal explored ways that he might do something that required more involvement, and together they proposed to the Seaside City Council that students audit the decades-old city charter, something the mayor didn’t even know existed. Drawing on the six career themes that were then central to the Oregon’s educational reform—industry and engineering, natural resources, human resources, health services, arts and community, and business and management—the teacher had each of his six classes take on one theme and compare what was written in the charter to what the city was currently doing. The students early on realized they’d need support to do credible work, so they designed a resource list of people they then invited to their classes.   They went on site visits and synthesized what they were learning into a presentation.

At the end of the term, the mayor called the city council to order in the middle school gymnasium. With 137 people in attendance, it ended up being one of the largest city council meetings in the history of Seaside. As Neal remembered, “The kids started going to the microphone and presenting their audit results. Some of them were pretty harsh.” The school district, in particular, came in for some major criticism for its failure to spend the required one percent of money allocated for building projects on public art. The students noted that not one dime had been spent on art during a recent $7 million remodeling effort, something that shocked them after documenting the art works that had been incorporated in other local city and state building projects.

On earlier visits with Neal I’d learned about similar projects taken on by teachers and students from elementary school to high school that gave children and youth the opportunity to do school work that showed them what it means to be an involved citizen. Fourth graders one year visited a number of the parks in Clatsop County and then made recommendations about new playground equipment during one of the public meetings of the parks commission. Middle school science students did a species survey at an old mill site the city hoped to turn into a public park with federal urban renewal funding. High school pre-calculus students used trigonometry to determine the dimensions of all of the buildings on the tsunami plain so that emergency planners could use new software to determine the impact of smaller and larger tidal waves. Another group of fourth graders surveyed their families and neighbors about whether they changed the batteries in their smoke detectors when daylight savings time comes to an end in the fall. The possibilities for investigations like these are nearly endless; all it takes is the willingness of teachers to be alert to them and for community organizations to value and then make use of the intellectual resource provided by public school students.

Asking/answering questions of the world

Beyond inducting children and youth into the processes by which a community governs and cares for itself, I learned about two other elements of Neal’s educational vision on our tour that are worth discussing. The first of these is tied to his belief that the curriculum should in part arise from questions that children raise about their world. Early on in his career as a science teacher, Neal decided that restricting instruction to textbook experiments people already knew the answer to is a recipe for disengagement and boredom. What is critical instead is acquainting students with the value of raising questions that can be answered through the systematic gathering and analysis of data. For elementary school students, he designed a process to convey this understanding.

Students were asked to predict where a rubber-tipped dart shot from a toy gun taped to and stabilized on a tripod would land on a classroom wall. The first stage was to draw a circle that you knew the dart would hit. Some students chose to include the entire wall, absolutely guaranteeing success; others were more precise. Then they conducted the experiment. The next step was to refine their prediction, something that required discussion and decision making. Eventually they found that the gun fired pretty consistently and would hit a point within a three-inch circle. As Neal observed, “What they found was testing is so valuable, getting data, because it makes your answer so much better. So simple. But for fifth grade, it was perfect. It was fun and it was interesting. They’d never gotten to shoot a dart gun in their classroom before.”

With this understanding in hand, Neal would encourage students to then ask questions of things like their watershed and design experiments or procedures aimed at answering them. For example, one day a student said that when he was out hiking with his family, his grandpa said that moss always grows on the north side of the trees. He wondered whether this was right or not. The teacher and class ran with the question and designed a project that involved taking acetate sheets, cutting them the length of the circumference of a tree, pinning them in place after checking and marking the four cardinal directions, and then recording with different colors the location of lichen, moss, and any other growth on the tree. All of this teacher’s classes ended up doing the experiment in a forest close to the school, so there were hundreds of acetate sheets. Once they had all been collected, the sheets were then laid with those on the north side lined up, allowing the students to determine how much moss or lichen grew on different sides of trees in at least this one forested area. What they discovered ended up being published in the Seaside newspaper.

Other questions led students to design experiments aimed at determining what kind of material was falling from trees in the forest. They strung up 10 feet by 10 feet tarps from trees, put a rock in the middle, and then left the tarps alone for 48 hours. They came back and swept everything that had accumulated into the middle and took what they collected back to the classroom. They then examined what was there through a stereoscopic microscope. Neal still gets excited about what they discovered: “That one was mind boggling because the number of insect larvae was shocking. It was amazing that there’s tons of stuff falling out the trees that you don’t see.” The students also wondered about what it is about the soil in a forest that allows it to produce so much vegetative matter. The teacher invited soil scientists into the classroom who taught the students about the constituents of soil, itself. The scientists were followed by a master gardener who helped the kids gather the appropriate materials and make their own soil that was then placed in raised beds. They planted seeds, and the experiment was under way. “The idea was they’d learn the scientific method as a result of trying to get, pry, answers from the landscape.”

Expanding the boundaries of home

Beyond inducting students into the processes that govern their own community, Neal believed that students’ school experiences should ideally lead to a recognition of their home community’s relationship to other towns and cities in their region. As a former football coach, he had been concerned about the way that most interscholastic contact focuses on “beating the crap out of Astoria and all that kind of business.” He wanted students from different communities to recognize the value of learning from and working with one another, as well. On the day I spent with him, he told me of three projects that sought to achieve this end.

Towards the end of the morning, much of our conversation took place at an elementary school on the outskirts of Seaside on a hill up above the tsunami plain. This location was ideal for the educational experiences described above because of the proximity of the forest but also the proximity of Coho Creek, a salmon-bearing stream partly located on school district property that feeds into fresh water marshes and then the salt water marshes where salmon undergo the transition that allows them to become fish capable of living in the ocean. Neal and teachers at the school quickly saw the learning possibilities of this site, turning it into a watershed education center for students from other schools. After learning the ins and outs of the salmon life cycle, Seaside students became watershed guides for fifth-grade students from Knappa and Astoria, towns to the north. For Neal, this kind of opportunity made it possible for students to have experiences that helped them recognize their kinship with peers in other schools in the same region.

The inspiration for the second project was a 1974 issue of Life Magazine that featured photos aimed at telling a story about what happened in the United States over the course of a single day. Neal figured that something similar could be done for the “Columbia Pacific region” stretching from Seaside and Jewell and Warrenton in Oregon up to Ilwaco and Long Beach in Washington. After getting the Daily Astorian to agree to print and publish it, staff from the paper led a workshop that was attended by 74-75 students from the region. The plan was to send these students out for 24 hours on the day of May 4, 1999 to document photographically what they saw happening in their community.   The hope was that they would begin to communicate with one another as citizens of a common region. With their cameras in hand, students found that people gave them acceptance and access as they captured their fellow citizens milking goats, making taffy, cutting trees, docking a fishing boat. Few of the students had ever spent a day in their own community just observing and speaking with people they didn’t know. After this experience, one girl said that “she gave up her old eyes” and had come to realize that she lived in a kind of paradise.   The project turned out to be “monumental” according to Neal, being written up in The Oregonian, the state’s largest paper. It was also selected for a Library of Congress journalism program with which the Daily Astorian was involved.

A project with a similar aim was called “Crossing Boundaries.” It involved students from five middle schools throughout the region who were asked to develop a transect across the entire Columbia River based upon the collection of bottom samples. To do this work, students had to learn how to run a boat in a straight line using GPS equipment across a few miles of river. Mastering this skill this took a couple of days. Then, with a boat captain standing behind them, some of the students kept the boat on course while their compatriots dropped scientific gear into the water and gathered data. The report based on their findings, “New Designs: Youth Voices Building Communities,” touched on important land use planning issues for the region and became the foundation for subsequent investigations, like strategies for protecting beach areas inhabited by sanderlings, a kind of small sandpiper.   What is striking about these projects is their creativity, the depth of learning they elicited, and the meaning they possessed for both student participants and the people throughout their region.

 

CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO

Greg Smith is an emeritus professor who taught for 23 years in the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College.  He’s keeping busy in his retirement serving on the board of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative in Michigan and the educational advisory committee of the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming; at home, he’s co-chairing a local committee that is seeking to develop curriculum regarding the Portland-Multnomah County Climate Action Plan.  He is the author or editor of six books including Place- and Community-Based Education in Schools with David Sobel.

E.E.’s Philosopher King (Pt 2)

E.E.’s Philosopher King (Pt 2)

Photo courtesy of Mike Brown.

Not One More Cute Project for the Kids:

Neal Maine’s Educational Vision

 

by Gregory A. Smith
Lewis & Clark College, Professor Emeritus

 

PART TWO
(see Part One here)

Sustaining Neal’s Place-Based Vision of Education: Lessons Learned

Despite the power and attractiveness of these educational practices, few of them remain in evidence after the close to 20 years since Neal retired and started devoting his time to land conservation and nature photography, one of the reasons he sought me out to document central elements of his work in Seaside and the north coast. He is thus well aware of the difficulty of institutionalizing teaching approaches that run contrary to the direction embraced by most contemporary schools. Part of the reason behind this outcome might be related to the way this dilemma is framed in dualistic terms. Rather than seeing the implementation of Neal’s vision as an either-or proposition, a more productive strategy might be to adopt a both-and perspective and then find ways that more of the kinds of things that Neal encouraged could become part of the mainstream educational agenda, not replacing what is now familiar and widely accepted but balancing this with an approach capable of generating higher levels of student engagement, ownership, and meaning. To that end, here are six lessons I take from what I’ve learned from Neal over the years:

  1. Give as much priority to student questions as to required standards.
  2. Value excited learners as much as competent test takers.
  3. Make as much time for community and outside-of-classroom explorations as the mastery of textbook knowledge.
  4. Create organizational structures that encourage creativity as much as accountability.
  5. Encourage teachers to partner with students as co-learners as much as they serve as their instructors.
  6. Develop teachers as alert to unexpected learning opportunities as they are to curricular requirements.

Give as much priority to student questions as to required standards. Human beings are intellectually primed to investigate questions whose answers are not immediately apparent. Think of the appeal of mystery novels, movies, or television programs, our attraction to riddles, the appeal of crossword puzzles. Although these formats involve no ownership on the part of readers, listeners, or players, they still are capable of eliciting attention and time commitment. Even more powerful are the questions we come up with ourselves. Part of the power of the educational approach Neal encouraged teachers to develop lay in the way he tapped into this human desire. Here’s one more story from the tour as an example of the possible. The students who had been involved in the Pompey Wetlands project at one point got ahold of a tape recorder and oscilloscope and began recording one another’s laughter. They had been studying the sounds and images (on the oscilloscope) of whale songs. They wondered whether their individual laughter would have some of the same recognizable visual features on the oscilloscope as what they had observed with whales. They found that they did and after a time could associate different visual patterns with the laughter of specific students in the classroom. Imagine their fascination at having made this discovery. Such fascination is the stuff of serious learning.

Value excited learners as much as competent test takers. Making time for student questions Is one way to excite learning. Another is to provide the opportunity to do things as well as hear about them or meet people as well as read about them. Part of that doing can be as simple as taking a walk in the woods or planting a garden. Part of it could involve designing an experiment to see whether moss really does only grow on the north side of trees. Part of it could involve participating in a group that sees what’s on the river bottom across a transect of the Columbia River. The possibilities of the doing and the investigating are nearly limitless. Such learning opportunities take advantage of human curiosity and the pleasure our species takes in gaining new skills and competencies. I can imagine some of the stories that children who had learned to keep a boat on straight course across the Columbia must have told their parents when they got home that evening—or what students who participated as photographers in the Day in the Life project shared. Not all learning experiences in school will be as memorable or as exciting as these, but some of them should be and not only on an infrequent basis. Things should be happening in school that fire students’ imaginations and intellects, things that instill in them a desire to learn more. Mastery of information for tests of one sort or another is one the requirements of life in modern societies, and it is a mastery we desire from the experts we turn to when in need of medical, legal, or mechanical services. The demand for such testing is not going to go away. But what ignites deep learning is an emotional connection with different topics, the personalization of learning that Neal sought to spread throughout the Seaside School District, something much more likely to happen by getting kids into the thick of things and engaging them in projects that demand their involvement.

Make as much time for community and outside-of-classroom explorations as the mastery of textbook knowledge. The knowledge found within textbooks is not without value; it is, after all, one of the central tasks of education to transmit culture to the young. At issue is whether this culture is being linked to the lives of children and youth in ways that communicate its significance and meaning. In the past, the authority (and fear) invested in teachers, ministers, and older relatives was enough to ensure the attention of many children to these issues. This is no longer the case in part thanks to the media, to mass culture, and to the weakening of traditional institutions like the family, school, and church. Place-based educators argue that one way to address this issue involves situating learning within the context of students’ own lived experience and the experience of people in their community. When this learning also engages them in the investigation of important local issues and provides them with the opportunity to share their findings with other peers and adults, so much the better. One of the strongest motivators for human participation is the chance to engage in activities that are purposeful and valued by others. Experiences like the health fair described earlier can both encourage involvement and strengthen students’ mastery of the knowledge and skills their teachers are attempting to convey to them. More students, furthermore, seem likely to produce higher quality work when they grasp its social significance and know it will be viewed and examined by community members as well as their teacher.

Create organizational structures that encourage creativity as much as accountability. One of the consequences of the standards and accountability movement since the 1980s has been the tendency on the part of many educators to teach to the test and for their administrators to assess their competence on the basis of students’ scores. School administrators have also become more likely to require teachers to justify the activities they bring into the classroom on the basis of specific curricular aims or benchmarks. Given the degree to which schools, for decades, have failed to adequately prepare non-White and lower income students, accountability structures are clearly needed, but the way they are currently being used has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum and a reduction in teachers’ ability to respond to learning opportunities presented by either students or community members. Place- and community-based education requires the capacity to improvise and make use of instructional possibilities that present themselves during the school year; these possibilities can’t always be anticipated. Embracing them demands the willingness of teachers to follow interesting leads while at the same time looking for ways that curricular requirements can be addressed by doing so. When schools impose both constraints and reward structures that inhibit this kind of flexibility, fewer teachers become willing to experiment in the way teachers who worked with Neal were able to. School districts can go a long way to encouraging creativity by inviting innovative teachers like Neal to share their expertise with others, either as teachers on special assignment or as members of within-district teams responsible for professional development. Addressing policies that affect daily schedules, the school calendar, and transportation requests can also do much to make learning in the community both possible and accessible.

            Encourage teachers to partner with students as co-learners as much as they serve as their instructors. It is not surprising that teachers feel uncomfortable about venturing into unfamiliar intellectual terrain with their students, something that gaining knowledge about what may be a new or minimally examined place and community will necessarily require. The same thing is true of pursuing questions that aren’t going to be answered by the textbook but demand data gathering and analysis. Teaching in this way involves a certain relinquishment of control and the willingness to trust students to be engaged participants in a process of collective learning. This doesn’t mean that a teacher only becomes a “guide on the side” completely following students’ lead and offering assistance only when needed. The teacher instead becomes a “model learner,” the person in the room with more expertise in knowing how to frame questions, seek out information, assess its credibility, locate appropriate experts, create experiments, organize data and analyze findings, and prepare presentations. There will still be a need for mini-lessons about specific content tied into students’ investigations, but the primary task of a teacher with many place-based units will be—like a graduate school advisor—to demonstrate what it means to be an independent learner committed to uncovering the truth inherent in different situations—just as some of the students attempted to discover whether moss always grows on the north side of trees when they began asking questions of the watershed. Moving into a role like this will be disconcerting for many teachers, but the rewards can be worth their initial discomfort as they find themselves no longer teaching the same thing every year but joining their students in a process of intellectual discovery and knowledge creation.

            Develop teachers as alert to unexpected learning opportunities as they are to curricular requirements. Enacting the previous five suggestions involves cultivating teachers who feel competent enough about their capacity as educators–drawing upon an analogy from the kitchen–to invent new and healthful dishes from ingredients at hand as they do following recipes. Recipes are certainly useful, but the test of an experienced cook is found in what they can create from scratch. Toward the end of our day together, Neal told a story about a storm-felled Sitka spruce in a park just across the street from a local middle school. Neal and a teacher there recognized the learning potentiality of this fallen giant and were able to forestall city employees for a couple of weeks as students conducted a tree necropsy. Especially valuable was the possibility of seeing at ground level the biological activity that goes on at the crown of a mature tree. In many instances, this learning resource would have been seen as no more than a mess to be cleaned up rather than an opportunity for an in-depth and unique scientific investigation. Novice and even experienced teachers need to be exposed to stories like this one that invite them to consider possibilities they may have never or rarely encountered during the course of their own education. Neal recognized that teaching in this way might be more of an art form than something that cab be easily taught but still offered the following guidance: “Don’t sleep on the way to school. Have your brain engaged. Always be looking for opportunities to make it come to life, especially if it’s community based. That really makes it work!”

 

Paying It Forward

My day-long journey through a partial history of Neal Maine’s work in Seaside deepened my understanding of his vision of the possible and at the same time his frustration with how difficult it has been to get many of his good ideas to stick. Early in our conversation he spoke of the way our society’s conventional vision of schooling constrains the education he believes needs to happen if young people are to grow into responsible citizens able to bring fresh and potentially more appropriate ideas to the challenges of living in the 21st century. Rather than asking students to be the passive recipients of information passed on to them by others in an effort to prepare them for adulthood and citizenship, educators need to give children the chance to participate now as data gatherers, knowledge producers, and community participants. As Neal put it, “You ought to exploit someone who is uncontaminated with having the same old answer. . . . How much could you exploit them, so to speak, in a positive, productive, humane, and sincere way? The irony of it is that the effort to exploit that capacity becomes the most powerful preparation possible for a later point in your life cycle which is what we should call adulthood.” This, not the creation of “one more cute project for the kids,” was Neal’s aim when he attempted to stimulate educational innovation in districts along the Northern Oregon and Southern Washington coast and influenced the thinking of rural educators across the United States as a board member of the Annenberg Rural Challenge.

He found that institutionalizing changes like the ones he enacted is not easy. A similar lesson was learned through the Rural Challenge, as well. As a board member of the Rural School and Community Trust I had a chance to be in touch with a number of the schools or districts that had received grants from the earlier Rural Challenge. Without the added resources and the network of support provided by that well-funded effort, it was difficult for teachers and administrators to sustain the work they had accomplished during that five-year period.

Regardless of these difficulties, ideas set in motion during that time are continuing to evolve. One of Neal’s Oregon colleagues, Jon Yoder, played a significant role in shaping the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative in Michigan that has sought to make environmental stewards out of the state’s children and youth for over a decade. Much of the work done there bears the stamp of Neal’s efforts, affecting over 115,000 students since the program began in 2007 (https://greatlakesstewardship.org/). Across the United States, a survey of place- and community-based educators completed in 2016 surfaced over 150 schools that are retooling their curriculum and instruction in ways that advance the aims Neal pursued in the Pacific Northwest (https://awesome-table.com/-KlsuLBGU0pYWpjFH1uh/view). Many other schools were also surfaced through a project sponsored by the Getting Smart website that has created a blog where teachers have been able to post their own stories about place-based education (http://www.gettingsmart.com/categories/series/place-based-education/). Finally, well-established institutions like Eastern Michigan University (https://www.emich.edu/coe/news/2016/2016-05-10-a-new-wave-of-urban-education.php) and the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming (https://education-reimagined.org/pioneers/teton-science-schools/) are creating teacher education and professional development programs aimed at preparing teachers able to embrace and then deliver learning experiences likely to lead to the forms of participation, citizenship, and community change Neal hoped to engender.

Whether schools on their own will be able to support and sustain innovations like these remains an open question, but the persistence of these ideas and the possibilities they are stimulating seem hopeful. Believing as I do that cultures change more through the telling of stories than bureaucratic manipulation, I encourage readers to have conversations about the work of Neal Maine and his educational vision. Going even further, for those of you who are teachers, try some of these possibilities out in your own schools and communities and see what happens. Then share your experiences with others—both the things that work and those that don’t. Learn from one another. As a tribute to Neal and the future, let’s see how long we can keep these ideas alive and how far we might be able to spread them.

Greg Smith is an emeritus professor who taught for 23 years in the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College.  He’s keeping busy in his retirement serving on the board of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative in Michigan and the educational advisory committee of the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming; at home, he’s co-chairing a local committee that is seeking to develop curriculum regarding the Portland-Multnomah County Climate Action Plan.  He is the author or editor of six books including Place- and Community-Based Education in Schools with David Sobel.

4-H Urban-Rural Exchange

4-H Urban-Rural Exchange

URBAN-RURAL

By being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host families, students begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.

By Maureen Hosty
With contributions from Gary Delaney, Deb Schreiber, John Williams, Jed Smith and Shana Withee

OSruralB_0164regon is a state of great socioeconomic and geographic diversity. While this diversity brings strength, it also challenges Oregonians to meet the needs of all communities. This divide is mostly deeply felt around natural resource management issues. Oregon cities are now so culturally isolated from the country that clashes between urban and rural Oregon occur frequently when it comes to grazing, logging, wilderness and wildlife. That was the world Portland urban youth walked into when they took a stand in defense of wolves in 2005 at a public Fish and Wildlife hearing. Ranchers howled in protest. Yet, just as it seemed Oregon’s urban-rural divide had grown into an unbridgeable chasm this conflict ended when 4-H stepped in. 4-H staff from urban and rural Oregon along with a handful of ranchers from rural Grant County did the unexpected. They invited kids from urban Portland middle school to live and work along side them and see a rancher or farmers side of life.

Today the 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange involves youth as a catalyst for change for a sustainable Oregon future by providing a venue for rural and urban youth and families to share their stories, their lifestyles, their beliefs and their practices for managing the land for the next generation. Through this program, urban youth and their adult chaperons travel to rural Eastern Oregon to live and work alongside 4-H ranch and farm host families for 6 days. Likewise, rural youth travel to Portland with adult chaperons to live and work alongside their 4-H urban host family.

rural_0202The program provides youth who are too often exposed to viewpoints on one side of an issue, a first hand experience on the land. It is this experience of being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host family that youth can begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.

Through the process of developing this program 4-H Faculty quickly learned that a key to helping youth understand the the natural resource issues as well as the sustainability and resiliency of their host community, youth first need some knowledge about the dynamics of the influential social, environmental, and economic systems that underlie them. Thus, while the program began as a response to the issue of the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon, in the end the program is designed to help youth understand the broader social, cultural and economic issues within rural and urban Oregon and the interdependence between both sides of the state.

During their stay with their host family youth participate in daily chores in caring for the land with their host family. More importantly though, youth are involved in all aspects of community life of their host family. The attend school for a day, participate in community events, shop at the local store, attend a local sports game, meet local neighbors and sometimes attend church to name a few of the activities.

Program Design

Participant Selection Process

IMG_1535.JPGApproximately 40-50 youth are selected to participate in this exchange each year. Youth selected to participate in this program must submit a 4-H program application and get approval from their school administrator and principal. Teachers and 4-H staff screen youth applications. Youth are selected for their commitment and openness to learn and their potential for serving as an ambassador for their community. Participating youth must also commit to giving a presentation back home about what they learned during their 6-day exchange. Once they are selected youth are paired with another student of the same gender and then matched with a host family. All youth are expected to write a letter of introduction to their host family.

Likewise, 8-10 adult chaperons are also selected to participate in this program. All adult chaperons must complete the OSU Extension 4-H Leader screening process and undergo a criminal background clearance. Chaperons are recruited and selected from teachers, parents and community partners.

Host families for this program are recruited from current 4-H and OSU Extension families. All adults in the host family must complete a background information application and participate in a host family site visit by the 4-H Extension faculty. Host families are selected for their ability to provide a meaningful experience for their visiting youth or adult chaperons.

Pre-Education

Prior to loading in the vans and heading across the mountains to their host family, all youth and adult participants in the program must first complete a series of 4-H educational programs designed to prepare them for their experience. A 30-minute introductory program is provided at the beginning for the school year to introduce all potential students to the program and explain the application process. A series of 2-3 follow up educational sessions are held over the next several months. These educational sessions focus on the social, cultural and environmental issues of their host communities; cross-cultural communication and understanding; and sustainable urban and rural agriculture.

A mandatory one-hour orientation is held for all participating chaperons, youth and their parents. Participating chaperons also participate in additional training related to the roles and responsibilities of being a chaperon.

During the Exchange

rural_0083Four six-day exchanges from urban to rural Oregon take place the same week in April. Urban 4H youth travel to multiple communities in Harney County, Grant County, Wallowa County and Klamath County. A few weeks later, youth from rural Oregon travel to urban Portland for a 5-day exchange.

Traveling to their host community takes several hours and generally includes brief stops at historical and/or natural landmarks within the state. A lunch stop is held at a local 4-H Extension office along the route.

Once youth and their chaperons arrive at their host county 4-H office, the program begins with a potluck dinner with all the host families and visiting youth and chaperons. The potluck is designed to give youth and chaperons the opportunity to meet their host families, participate in icebreaker activities, and learn about the guidelines and expectations for the week.

During their stay with their rural host family Portland youth work alongside ranchers and farmers from rural eastern Oregon to learn the joys and challenges that comes with real rural life. Some activities include: caring and feeding livestock, vaccinating animals, branding cattle, chopping wood, and cleaning barns. Urban youth learn that ranching and farming is a 24-hour around the clock profession and caring for their livestock involves even checking on their livestock at 2 am. Urban youth also attend a school for the day in their rural community host school. In some cases urban youth who are use to attending school with 500+ students in three grades are surprised to find some rural schools with less than 100 students in 12 grades.

SruralB_0202Likewise, rural middle school youth visit Portland to learn about the joys and challenges of urban life. Rural youth live and work alongside urban families and explore issues relevant to Portland such as transportation, greenspaces preservation, urban agriculture and water management. Rural youth learn how to use public transportation, visit a farmers market and/or community gardens, tour a waste treatment plant , or visit a recycling center. They also attend school for a day. Unlike back home in their community, rural youth visiting urban Portland walk to school or ride their bike. In some cases rural youth learn that urban students get to school by public transportation.

On the sixth and final day of the exchange, visiting youth and chaperons and their host families return to the local 4-H Extension office to participate in a debriefing activity and to say final goodbyes.

Post Program

Once youth return from their experience living with a host family across the urban-rural divide, the program does not stop. Participating youth are divided into teams of 3-4 youth. Each team is expected to prepare and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation to the rest of their school about what they learned during the exchange.

More important, however, many youth continue their education beyond the 4-H program. Over 1/3 of the youth who have particpated in this program reported that they went back to visit their host family in the summer and took their own family with them. Several families in one Portland community also began a beef cooperative with their 4-H host ranch family.

rural_1098-1Program Impacts

Outcome evaluations indicated significant changes in attitude, knowledge and understanding of socioeconomic and environmental issues from both sides of the divide. A four year evaluation found changes in knowledge and attitudes among both urban and rural participants. 119 urban participants and 43 rural host family members participated in the study.

Urban participants reported significant changes in attitudes in:

1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of living of rural Oregonians; 2) Understanding the beliefs and practices for managing the land by rural Oregonians; 3) Understanding how the actions of urban Oregonians impact rural Oregon natural resource management; 4) Their awareness of rural Oregon stereotypes; 5) Knowing the commonalities urban and rural Oregonians have in managing their land; 6) Their belief that ranchers have a respect and understanding of how to best manage their land.

Rural participants reported significant changes as well in:

1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of urban youth; 2) Their belief that most urban Oregonians are open to hearing all sides of natural resource issues; 3) Their awareness of urban Oregon stereotypes; 4) Their belief that urban Oregonians have a respect and understanding of how to best manage urban natural resources.

IMG_1022.JPGToday, over 600 youth and family members have participated in this program since it began in 2006. Many of these 600 Oregonians will likely spend the rest of their lives living and working in their same respective part of the state. They might never step foot on the other side of divide. But from this day forward, they will have a different idea about the kind of people they share the state with and how they are managing their natural resources. And when that time comes when another issue around the managementt of our natural resources divides this state, these 4H youth, 4-H leaders and 4-H host families will have someone they know and trust that they can reach out to and get their input and insights on the issue.

To learn more about this program, the program sponsors and partners, or how to become involved, please contact us:

Maureen Hosty, 4-H Youth Development, Metro 4-H
Phone: 971-361-9628
E-mail: Maureen.hosty@oregonstate.edu
Website: www.4hwildlifestewards.org

 

 

 


 

Follow-up

Since the program began in 2006, there have been a total of 34 Exchanges between urban and rural Oregon. Three hundred and eight urban youth youth and 74 urban adult chaperons have traveled across  Oregon to live and work alongside 130 rural families (a total of 434 Rural Oregonians). The program has since expanded from 4 counties to 8 counties: Multnomah, Grant, Klamath, Wallawa, Harney, Wheeler, Gilliam and Morrow. 4-H Faculty and staff are busy preparing for the 2016 Exchanges which will take place March 31-April 5th. Participants in the exchange will be recruited from 4-H Youth and Adults from 4-H Clubs and 4-H Partner Schools. For more information about this program please contact: Maureen Hosty OSU Extension Faculty Portland Metro Area 4-H 3880 SE 8th Ave #170 Portland, OR 97202 PH 971-361-9628 | cell 503-360-6060 | fax -971-361-9628 maureen.hosty@oregonstate.edu

All Photos: Lynn Ketchum

 

 

 

 

Citizenship Education

Citizenship Education

ofristarkerSeeking Environmental Maturity at Starker Forests

Helping students climb the ladder to responsible citizenship

by Richard Powell

Starker Forests is a family-owned tree farming business of about 80,000 acres, mostly within an hour’s drive in the Coast Range west of Corvallis, OR.  For many years, we’ve taken people on trips to the woods.  These might be field trips for school children, university students, visiting foresters/scientists from around the world, or the general public.  We’ve hosted a number of workshops for teachers.

As our society becomes increasingly urbanized, we see people becoming increasingly unaware of the origins of the things they use in their daily lives.  We’ve had high schools students identify their electric hair dryers and modeling clay as not coming from natural resources.  A senior remarked that he didn’t know Oregon had rock quarries (apparently the concrete floor we were standing on just magically appeared)!  A group of high school students weren’t even sure what natural resources were but thought a dairy cow might be related to natural resources – although, they weren’t sure.  As an example of something not related to natural resources, middle school students often point to their classroom’s television.
To become a wise user of natural resources, it is imperative that people understand where things come from.  Our intent is to help them re-connect with the natural world and, more specifically, get a better understanding of the forest and the origins of all the wood products they use.

PowellarticlequoteAt the same time, we find people have little sense of the history of a landscape.  Students are taught the science of the environment but they do not connect that science with the landscape’s history.  We want people to understand that biology and history have worked in tandem to shape what they see; the landscape is a function of both biology and history.
Of the school groups we take on field trips, most come from elementary schools; a few come from middle schools; only rarely, do they come from high school.  Being so close to Oregon State University, we do get some university students and we get a lot of people from the general public.  We get a number of foreign visitors – foresters, scientists, landowners, etc.

Even though we take many school classes to the woods, we get very little feedback from the teachers.   [The best feedback is that most teachers come back year after year.]  The absolute best feedback we get is when we see a child a year or two later.  It takes very little time for us to realize we’d seen them before and that they remember quite a bit from their earlier field trip.
With adult groups, we commonly hear someone remark how a forester has to know about and care for so much more than just the trees.  Sometimes, we’ll hear someone say they have to re-think what they know about forests and forestry.  Now and then, they’ll remark how they still don’t like some of the things we do in forestry but they begin to understand there is a reason for what we do and it is based on science – it is not just about the money.

Though we take around 2000 people a year to the woods, we are foresters; we are not trained in pedagogy.  For years, we’ve had a nagging question: is what we’re doing working?  Do people “get” what we are trying to teach?  Does any of this stick with them for the long term?  Or, are we wasting our time and money?

This past summer, I attended the World Forestry Center’s International Educator’s Institute (IEI).  As an environmental educator without any formal pedagogical or interpretive training, I found this week-long workshop enlightening and very worthwhile.

The part of IEI that I found most useful was called the “Pedagogic Steps in Environmental Maturity”.  It validated what we’re doing.

PedagogicstepsIn essence, the “Steps” is a ladder and, to get to the top rung (i.e., “Environmental Maturity”), one has to climb up from the rung below.  For example, it would be futile to talk to someone in Swahili if they had not first learned and become fluent in that language.  Without that prior knowledge, we’d quickly see a bunch of glazed-over stares and we’d find we’re pretty much wasting everyone’s time.

Step #1 — Learn to enjoy the outdoors.
Just get people outdoors.  Adults enjoy a nice drive or hike in the woods.  Take the kids hiking or camping or go canoeing on the neighborhood pond or river.  Let them have fun.  We’ve always felt people had a good time, but, did they learn anything from their field trip and did any of that learning stay with them?

Step #2 — Experience and observe nature.
Smell the flowers, feel the sun’s warmth, or get soaked on a cold, rainy day.  Explore around a beaver pond and see where the beavers had burrowed into the bank to build their dens; look for a tree’s stump or a branch the beavers had chewed.  Have people simply stop, close their eyes, and listen; it is incredible what they’ll hear for the very first time.  In a few minutes time, people will never become an expert at identifying a tree but we can get them to see that the leaders, buds, needles, color, feel, bark, flowers, smell, taste, pollen, etc. vary greatly between tree species (no, they do not all have pine cones nor do they all have pine needles).

Step #3 — Understand the ecological web.
Now that we have them outdoors, they are having fun, and beginning to experience and see things, they can begin to understand what they see.  Pick up and look at and feel a handful of dirt.  As they see and feel the litter layer, moss, worm holes, roots, bugs, fungi, moisture, texture, etc. they begin to understand it is not dirt at all – it is soil!  (Dirt is what we wash off our hands before lunch; soil is the good stuff.)  Likewise, they can sample the water’s pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature and see how those might affect the macro-invertebrates in the water.  They can see a tree’s cross-section and associate the narrow growth rings with a dense forest canopy or maybe see that the wider rings are due to a more open canopy.

Once they’ve seen the differing buds, leaders, bark, leaves, etc., they can begin to see how some tree species are similar while others are different.  They can begin to group similar trees into a genus, name those groups and the individual species, and begin to understand a tree.

Step #4 — Understand the interplay of man and nature.
Yes, we play in nature and we like to see and experience nature.  But, more than that, nature is the source of life’s very existence!  Nature provides the air, nutrients, energy, and moisture required by all life forms on the planet.  Take away any one of these and life ceases to exist; alter any one and life is changed.  This is the food chain.  Or, put another way, life is totally dependent on the extraction and use of natural resources for its very existence.

In addition to the food chain, nature is the source of everything people use.  Iron, sulfur, wood, cotton, plastic, gasoline, concrete, clothing, electricity, coal, food – in some way, all of our wants and needs are extracted from the environment.
Looking back at those tree rings, maybe they can see how those narrow rings became wider.  This was likely due to opening up the canopy by either a natural means (a tree died or blew over in a storm) or the forest had been thinned.

Step #5 — Make decisions on environmental issues.
This step is one we really wrestle with.  We know there are a lot of controversial issues over the use of natural resources so we strive to just stick with the science and the history of the land – on these, there should be little controversy.  [Unless asked, we endeavor to keep our biases or personal philosophies/opinions to ourselves.]  As Project Learning Tree says, we’d rather “teach how to think, not what to think”.  We’d prefer to let people take what they saw and learned and make their own decisions.

Step #6 — Be responsible for the future.
We’d hope, after going out and experiencing the woods, our visitors are better able to make more informed and better choices.  With choices comes responsibility and this would be the perfect time for a community service project.
As a practical matter, we see most people for just a brief time and it is hard for us to do steps 5 and 6 with them.  With students, we hope to plant some seeds that, during the course of the school year, the teacher can help germinate and grow.  With that, the students may make some decisions and then take responsibility.

That said, we’ve sponsored Tree Planting Day annually for more than twenty years.  We take a harvested unit, make sure it is safe, there is a reasonable traffic flow, etc. and then invite youth and their parents to come out and plant a few trees.  We’ve had as many as 400 youngsters and 200 parents on a Saturday morning though 140 youngsters and 90 parents is more the norm.  They have fun (step #1); we do this rain or shine and, usually, in the mud (step #2); they plant little seedlings that, hopefully, will grow into large trees (step #3); it’s on a unit that was harvested for all the products made from wood (step #4).  Further, they’ve chosen to spend a Saturday morning in the cold, rain, and mud (step #5) and help ensure that that harvested unit is reforested (step #6).

forest-fieldinvestA few months ago, we took a pre-school class to the woods; these were three and four-year olds.  Other than having a good time (step #1), what could these little guys possibly get from a mile-long hike in the woods; could they even get above that first step?
A few days after their field trip, I had a wonderful surprise delivered to my desk.  There was a nice poster with a picture of me kneeling down and surrounded by the kids; I was showing them a stick some beavers had chewed on.  Concentric, brown circles drawn around this picture gave this poster the appearance of a tree’s cross-section.
The good part was on the backside of the poster.  The teachers evidently sat down with the kids to debrief and find out/reinforce what the kids had learned.

“We made duck, cougar, bear, beaver, and a raccoon print”.  [Some years ago, we made some “sand boxes” across the road so kids could make animal tracks with some rubber prints.]  — Step #1

“The bear foot print was the biggest; we heard birds; we learned a fir cone; we saw lots of trees”. — Step #2

“We count the rings of the tree to find out the age of the tree; trees need water; if trees don’t have water, they will not grow; trees need sun, water, air, just like us”.  — Step #3

“We saw the letter ‘S’ on trees. ‘S’ trees were dead”. — [This particular plantation was on ground that had been burned around 1850 and, post-settlement, it was a pasture.  We’d planted this pasture and, since it had not previously been a forest and there were no large trees, snags, downed logs, stumps, etc. for wildlife habitat, we created some snags when we thinned this forest.  To help people see these snags, we’d painted an ‘S’ on several snags.] — Step #4

We were truly amazed how much these three and four-year olds took home from their mile-long hike.  We were especially pleased their teachers had followed up with their students.  Their comments in step #3 were especially gratifying.

About a month and a half later, a parent/teacher sent me a note.  Her son was one of those pre-school students and he was still talking about this field trip!
It would have been nice if they had gotten to steps 5 and 6 but that would be quite a lot to ask of a three or four-year old.

Richard Powell is the Public Outreach Forester for Starker Forests, Inc., in Philomath, Oregon.