Red-backed salamanders, crayfish, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, and crane flies are some of the species observed on the new Belle Sherman Elementary School Nature Trail. Third-graders recorded their observations last month as part of a four-week field study funded by an Ithaca Public Education Initiative Red and Gold Grant.
Belle Sherman teacher Monica Lang collaborated with Laurie Rubin, a retired teacher and local author of “To Look Closely—Science and Literacy in the Natural World,” to create a series of journaling lessons corresponding with the field, forest, meadow and creek areas of the trail. Through drawing, poetry, informational writing and personal narratives, students documented their observations and insights.
“Children’s natural sense of wonder comes alive in nature,” Lang said. “Their sense of curiosity, exploration, and imagination become ignited as they hear, see, smell, and touch things that are alive and growing in the natural world. Journaling in nature promotes patience and a quiet watchfulness. It cultivates an appreciation and respect for all living things. It can also serve to bond a classroom community together.”
Lang’s class has led the creation of the school’s Nature Trail. Last fall, they visited the site, which surrounds the school grounds, and put together a proposal to present to the City of Ithaca Planning Board. After the Board approved their idea, work began and the trail can now be used by the school community.
With the IPEI Red and Gold Grant, the class was able to use the natural space right away, gaining hands-on experience as part of the district’s science and English Language Arts curriculum. Lang, along with parent volunteers, hiked with the students along the trail weekly, bringing along various tools—buckets, measuring tapes, thermometers, and notebooks—to measure the depth and temperature of the creek water, as well as record observed changes in plants and rocks in the natural area. The students first spent time exploring and then quietly documenting what they found. In culminating the grant program, students created “How To” books for future Belle Sherman classes interested in journaling at the trail.
“It was really fun to explore your creek with you,” Rubin told the class on her last visit. She closed by reading an entry from her own journal in which she describes seeing and researching a snapping turtle in her pond. She encouraged the students to continue to journal their experiences with nature even after the project ends.
IPEI Red and Gold Grants are awards up to $500 for projects that strengthen and enrich learning in the Ithaca City School District.
IPEI is a community-based not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that develops supportive community and private sector relationships with the ICSD. Founded in 1996, IPEI is committed to connecting school and community through collaboration, engagement, gifts and grants. For more information, visit www.ipei.org
or contact 256-IPEI (4734).
By Heather Zimar, IPEI PR Committee Member, Parent of ICSD Students