Celebrating Earth Stewardship Day: Upper School Students Teaching Younger Grades
by Laurel J. Flyer, Sandy Spring Friends School
As part of a community wide Earth Stewardship Day celebration, Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) brings together Upper School and Lower School students to study environmental topics. Based on a model developed for an outdoor classroom near Seattle, WA, small groups (2-4 students) of Biology students develop and implement a short lesson for Pre-K to 6th grade students. Lessons are given at select spots around our campus pond and along the stream that flows from it. While providing an opportunity to focus on environmental education, these lessons also provide a wonderful opportunity to make connections between students in different divisions.
Biology students (9th and 10th graders) develop these lessons as part of the class curriculum unit on Ecology. Inspiration is gathered from many sources, including “Project Wild” lessons and Earth Day on-line lessons. Each group of students is required to submit a detailed lesson plan that clearly explains how they will introduce their topic, what they expect the students to learn, what activities will be done, what questions will be asked, and how learning will be assessed. Students keep a record of their individual contributions to the group efforts to ensure that everyone participates in the process. Their grade on the project combines the scores on the written lesson plan, their individual efforts, and the scores for the actual lesson given on Earth Stewardship Day. Teachers and older students observe and score the lessons using a rubric developed for the project.
Lessons embrace a wide variety of concepts, including adaptations for survival, competition for resources, interdependence in ecosystems, form following function, and connections between art and science. In walking the path around the pond, you might find kindergarten students playing a game, 4th graders writing poems or drawing pictures, or 6th graders collecting macroinvertebrate samples from the water to assay stream health. The energy that results from making connections between the younger and older students is magical.
Making use of outdoor campus resources is an excellent way to help students make meaningful connections to nature. Studies indicate that the time spent on computers by children has tripled in the past ten years. Add television, game systems, and cell phones, and children can easily avoid the outdoors. Activities that increase awareness of the natural environment can only improve the chance that they will become stewards of the Earth!