The Transylvania Times -

Pisgah Forest Elementary Takes Learning Outside - Pisgah Forest, NC


September 25, 2017

Courtesy Photo

Teachers at Pisgah Forest Elementary School practice observing and questioning strategies as they study and identify caterpillars.

Transylvania County School students dismissed at noon this past Wednesday, giving the teachers at Pisgah Forest Elementary the afternoon to switch from "teacher" to "learner" for the kickoff of the school's year-long No Child Left Inside professional training programing.

Partnerships with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and Mountain Roots, a local educational nonprofit, are allowing the school to offer a series of experiential education workshops to support teachers in designing authentic and engaging learning activities that foster children's natural curiosity.

"It's important for students to understand that learning doesn't just happen in a classroom or at a desk; learning happens all over the place," teacher Renee Brown said.

"We have a big focus on teaching students to use technology, but we also need to help students learn to focus on nature, to be able to be still and observe the world around them," teacher Kristi Clark said.

Pisgah Forest Elementary School is one of five schools in the state to receive the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences grant Using the Outdoors to Teacher Experiential Science (UTOTES) for the 2017-18 school year. First through fifth grade teachers, support staff and some community members are participating in UTOTES to learn more about how to facilitate hands-on, outdoor learning opportunities for all students.

According to Melissa Dowland, coordinator of teacher education for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and UTOTES trainer, taking students outside not only creates an exciting setting for learning, but also gives students an appreciation and understanding of the natural world.

"By expanding the classroom walls to include outdoor learning environments, students and teachers are able to use their immediate surroundings to learn science, math, language arts and other subjects," Dowland said. "This grant gives teachers firsthand experience with living things. They can share their excitement with students and help them grow into stewards of the land."

Mountain Roots provided development activities, brainstorming and collaboration guidance, as well as a fun atmosphere for the kindergarten and specials teachers to embrace the possibilities of experiential education in (and outside) the classroom.

"We are excited about working with PFES to expand the reach of hands-on / minds-on education for students across Transyl-vania County," said Ali Lien, director of Mountain Roots. "Getting kids engaged in an experiential manner helps to enhance the connections they are making with their educational content. We often find that working together in an experience-based setting builds stronger relationships between classmates. And the best part is, we are able to make the learning experience fun and memorable."

In addition to the professional training for teachers, each grade has an experiential project connected to the outdoors. Kindergarten students will participate in programming with Mountain Roots, while first grade students will have multiple visits from human and animal friends from the WNC Nature Center. Second graders will be working with volunteers from the Pisgah Ranger District to study life cycles.

Third and fourth graders will both participate in citizen science projects with third graders working with the N.C. Arboretum to collect animal census data while fourth graders manage camera traps to collect evidence of wildlife species in the area surrounding the school campus. Fifth graders will continue to participate in the Muddy Sneakers field science program and will attempt to raise trout in the classroom in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. Other projects and partnerships are in the works.

Courtesy Photo

Teacher Educator Melissa Dowland introduces teachers to Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Sciences program in the outdoor classroom at Pisgah Forest Elementary.

"We're basically kid engineers," said fifth grader Braylon Pritchett as he and his classmates installed handmade barometers around the school on Thursday. "We solve problems and figure stuff out. That's how we learn best."

Pisgah Forest Elemen-tary School will be inviting parents and community members to campus in May to celebrate outdoors and participate in hands-on learning experiences. Thanks to the UTOTES grant, this event will include the installation of an animal habitat on the school's campus. The 2017-18 school year is shaping up to be an adventurous and engaging one for students and staff at Pisgah Forest Elementary.

(Hardy is a life-long learner and the instructional coach at Pisgah Forest Elementary School.)


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