Outdoor Classroom: Teaching Science on the Forest

SRS entomologist Scott Horn (far right) talks to students about the benefits of insects and what their populations can tell us about the environment. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
SRS entomologist Scott Horn (far right) talks to students about the benefits of insects and what their populations can tell us about the environment. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

On a brisk morning in north Georgia, U.S. Forest Service employees prepared for a “Kids in the Wood”’ excursion to Scull Shoals with students from the local Union Point STEAM (STEM plus the arts) Academy and Elementary School, the first rural K-8 STEAM school in Georgia.

“Scull Shoals is a historic site located on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest right in their backyard. We are delighted to build this partnership,” stated Cassandra Johnson Gaither, project leader of the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Human and Natural Systems unit based in Athens, Georgia.

During the trip, students rotated to different stations where they learned about ecosystem services, how to analyze tree health, insects, and the importance of studying science at various scales. Stacy Lundgren, archaeologist on the Oconee Ranger District, guided students through an archaeological dig to search for buried artifacts such as building material and arrowheads. District wildlife biologist Daryl Hodges emphasized the importance of scale in environmental research. Students were smitten by the rustic scenery, engaging activities and time away from textbooks. SRS entomologist Scott Horn showed students a display of various insects and explained what we can learn from insect populations. From the power of pollinators to the environmental impacts of flooding, students learned a range of new material that moved them to give the trip “two thumbs up.”   

Students participate in a dig at the Scull Shoals Historic Site with Forest Service archaeologist Stacy Lundgren (far right). Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Students participate in a dig at the Scull Shoals Historic Site with Forest Service archaeologist Stacy Lundgren (far right). Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

The trip was organized by Viniece Jennings, a researcher with the Human and Natural Systems Research unit, who also served as a presenter during the trip. “The students had a great time. they got outside, learned interesting things, and met people who have diverse careers in science,” shares Jennings. “We provided students with a workbook that was tailored for their trip, aligned with the new science standards and modified activities from the agency’s Natural Inquirer journal.”

Other speakers included volunteers from Friends of Scull Shoals and the Georgia Forestry Commission. “I think it did the students a lot of good and opened their eyes a bit to see science applied in multiple ways in the field away from school,” says Michael Weis, the Union Point science teacher who took his class on the trip. “I really enjoyed walking among the different stations of activities and seeing how engaged the students were. We look forward to other forest trips next semester.”

For more information, email Viniece Jennings at vjennings02@fs.fed.us

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