Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Forest-Related Education for the Next Generation: Outdoor School

Date of Visit: May 29 - 30, 2019
Type of event: Field trip
Topic: Forest-Related Education for the Next Generation
Organization: Camp Magruder

Location: Camp Magruder, Tillamook, Oregon
Hosts: Andy Hecker / Camp Magruder Outdoor School Program Leader
International Fellows: Zhongyuan Ding (China), Will Maiden (United Kingdom)

On a sunny Wednesday after Memorial Day, two International Fellows visited Camp Magruder, which was hosting nearly 180 sixth-grade students from Laurel Ridge Middle School and Sherwood Middle School for a week-long Outdoor School program. Coordinated by Dr. Randy Smith (Courtesy Faculty of Portland State University), Zhongyuan Ding and Will Maiden spent two days at the camp observing forestry-related activities. Ongoing for more than 60 years in Oregon, Outdoor School provides the opportunity for students in fifth or sixth grade to move from their school classrooms into the outdoors to learn and immerse themselves in nature. In 2015, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 439: The Outdoor School Law, which means every Oregon student in fifth or sixth grade will have the opportunity to attend a weeklong Outdoor School program or an equivalent outdoor education experience.

Outdoor school instructor explaining forest ecosystem values to sixth-grade
students on the forest-themed field study

At Camp Magruder, the students were separated into 6 groups, with each group supervised by one instructor and five student leaders. The instructor was responsible for carrying out all scheduled scientific study site activities and was directly supported by five student leaders, mainly college and high school students, in assisting 30 sixth-grade students in all phases of the Outdoor School program. Within or adjacent to Camp Magruder’s 160-acre area are a wide variety of ecosystems, including forest, ocean, freshwater lake, and marsh, so that on the schedule there were 5 field studies with designated themes: Forest, Beach, Soil, Wetland, and Animals. At mealtime, students were seated at tables with wooden plaques featuring different animal and plant names, such as Alder, Conifer, Puma, Bee and so on. At 8 pm each evening, campfire time took place, which consisted of the acting out of dramas, comedies and choruses. The students sat along a trail next to each other and acted as both audience and  performing artists, as they occasionally jumped out and took part in group performances led by student leaders.
The decomposition times of different types of
man-made materials were discussed

On the Forest-themed field study that Will and I shadowed, the instructor showcased to the students four common stages of ecological succession- meadow, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, and old-growth forest -and explained the differences among them by organizing a role-playing game. The instructor also presented a philosophical argument to the group to demonstrate the ecosystem values of forests: What would you choose to do to gain 100 thousand cubic feet of timber? Cut down 10 acres of old-growth trees or 30 acres of small trees? Climate change was discussed by talking about purchasing locally-produced products and considering buying items with less packaging.

Students turning over the garden compost by hand
As well as learning about the forest, the children received a geography lesson by drawing a 3-D map of Oregon in the sand. Each group used driftwood, shells, sand, and seaweed to produce their maps, with the best group receiving a bead for their necklace to take home (as per the camp’s reward system). The camp also used hands-on techniques with the children to turn over the camp’s compost system. Here the camp instructor highlighted the speed at which natural materials decompose and showed the students examples of metal, plastic, glass, and cotton to address the decomposition process. The students learned a lot through interactive games and subgroup discussions about how unique and complex the natural world is and what role human beings play in the ecosystem.

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives

Zhongyuan Ding, International Fellow
from China, has a huge crush on big trees
The extent to which youngsters learn to understand and wisely use natural resources today will largely determine their behaviors in the future. For me, a human resources officer at the Chinese Academy of Forestry, it was good to see a hands-on, inquiry-based approach to natural sciences in action instead of learning these concepts from textbooks in the classroom. The Outdoor School program is an impressive example of developing skills, such as critical thinking and teamwork, as well as promoting good citizenship.

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