Project Learning Tree (PLT) recently awarded the Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida, a GreenWorks! grant to develop an outdoor classroom that includes elements to attract and learn about birds.
GreenWorks! is the service-learning component of PLT that provides grants to PLT-trained educators for students to implement environmental improvement projects. By blending community service with the academic curriculum, students are “learning by doing.”
The groundwork for this project began in 2013 when Annie Hermansen-Báez, center manager of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station science delivery center InterfaceSouth and Kids in the Woods project lead, partnered with Littlewood Elementary teacher Ashley Whitehead to create a Green Team at Littlewood. Through this program, 12 second through fifth grade students are working together to make Littlewood a more green and healthy learning environment.
A lot of preparation was required to apply for the GreenWorks! grant. The Littlewood Green Team helped with the design of the outdoor classroom by conducting site investigations last year and mapping all potential areas for locating the outdoor classroom. Their hard work paid off, since they were one of 61 grant recipients from across the nation that received funds for environmental improvement projects.
With money from the grant, the students are creating an outdoor classroom space that includes student desks/benches, a teacher desk, stepping stones, bird feeders, baths, and plants to attract native pollinators. The classroom will provide a place for students and teachers to interact with nature and learn about birds’ feeding behaviors and habitats. Backpacks with ready-made lessons that incorporate bird, tree, and other nature themes will be created so teachers can simply check them out for use in the outdoor classroom space. Backpack materials will focus on a related PLT activity and contain materials, student pages, and supporting resources teachers might need. Early next year Hermansen-Baez and Whitehead will conduct a workshop with Littlewood’s teachers that will include tips on how to use the available PLT backpack resources and techniques for outdoor learning.
Students will also adopt the trees in the outdoor classroom area and develop signs that share information about the tree species. Interpretive signs about local birds and native pollinator and bird attractor plants will also be developed. Students will use the National Tree Benefit Calculator, a web-based program that allows students to estimate the benefits of trees on their school property. This program is based on i-Tree, an application developed by the Forest Service and numerous cooperators that helps communities of all sizes to assess the community trees and the vital role that they provide.