For the Rockdale Elementary Afterschool Schoolyard Design Club (featured in a previous blog post), the Earthwatch Institute microgrant funded a series of learning activities and lesson plans under the leadership of microgrant awardee Anupama Mann.
Where did the activities take place, and who participated? 23 students (grades 1-5) at Rockdale Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Elementary School.
What urban forestry concepts did you teach in the classroom? The After School Club was a design exercise focused on enhancing the existing schoolyard. Part of the class included designing a field of trees, a wildlife habitat, and a sensory garden and play structures on the school site. In the beginning of the class a power point presentation showed the numerous schoolyards that incorporated the wildness of nature and had not been overtaken entirely by asphalt. The children were given handouts of California trees, part of the approved list by LAUSD, to read about and use as inspiration for making the model of a single tree, a grove of trees or a forest of trees. We identified the existing trees on the school grounds and also established areas that would benefit from having more trees and that would best suit tree growth.
What hands-on activities did you have your students perform to reinforce these concepts? The activities were integrated across six different lessons (as follows):
Full lesson plan available here: Green Schoolyard Design with Anupama Mann and direct excerpts are listed below.
In Lesson 1 the school was divided up into five stations. Groups of students from first to fifth grades walked the site and listed what they liked about each station and what they wanted to change.
Lessons 2 and 3
In Lesson 2, the students were shown a slide show of playgrounds from around the world. They were introduced to a more unkempt appearance of some of the grounds as trees and plants, natural and man-made materials came together to create a more visually and sensorially stimulating environment invoking curiosity and engagement. Students were then asked to keep in mind what they had seen and use that as well as their own experiences to draw a vision of their schoolyard.
In Lesson 3, the students had to make models of what they drew. The materials included, foam board, colored paper, yarn, twigs, leaves and seeds from trees, cloth, felt etc to turn the two-dimensional drawings they had made in lesson 2 into three dimensional models. The students made ponds and pools, sand, swings, slides, bridges, zip lines, tree houses, acorn play structures, tent like areas of refuge, tunnels, flower gardens, climbing trees, murals, totem poles, ponds, and patterns on the ground.
In Lesson 4, the children were given handouts describing and showing photographs of the various parts of California native trees. They were then asked to make models of a tree or trees to create a scene that could be incorporated in the Schoolyard Design.
In Lesson 5, the students helped assemble a scaled model of their school grounds. They then identified different areas on the model.
In Lesson 6, the children placed their own creations on the school model they had built in lesson 5. They then used peg people to create a narrative of how they would move through the newly created school yard where trees were almost as numerous as the students.
How did you use and/or modify Earthwatch’s Resilient Trees protocol in your hands-on activity to measure trees? The lessons introduced children to the idea of having a natural schoolyard, helped them identify trees on the school grounds, get familiar with California trees and helped them understand where trees were needed on the schoolyard. They also designed and made conceptual models of trees and tree groves and environments for the schoolyard.
What were the best positive outcomes for your students as a result of these urban forestry lesson plans? The best outcome was that there was an increased awareness amongst the students and the larger school community about creating a more inspiring outdoor environment than is currently seen in the form of asphalt grounds in a majority of schools around the city and country.
What did your students have the most fun doing? They had the most fun making models of individual areas of the schoolyard with elements that they had designed including the model trees.
What were some challenges you faced in implementing these lesson plans? Do you have any best practices or techniques you used to overcome these challenges? I feel that the club the activities could have been simplified because of the difference in age groups from Grade 1 to 6. In the future, I would work with a smaller group of students with a lesser age range.
What advice do you have for fellow educators wanting to implement a similar lesson plan? Any recommendations for facilitation techniques? In our club we had a series of activities planned for every class but realized that it may have been better to focus on one that really got the children’s attention and run with it rather than trying to cover all the topics.
Do you personally plan to share this with/recommend these activities to other educators? Yes. It got the students interested in landscaping, in the outdoors, in their school grounds and ways to turn it back to a more natural setting. In that sense, it is a good place to start in getting students more spatially aware about their outdoor environment and interested in urban forestry.
If other educators have questions about how you implemented your lesson plans, may they contact you? Yes. They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org