Thursday, October 31, 2013

Overcoming Logistical Challenges

Cathy Harron, 4th grade teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Warren County, VA. 
Outside, outdoors has always been a favorite part of my life.  Up until a little while ago, I took for granted that the great outdoors would always be there for me.  Oh, I understood we needed to take care of it.  I can remember my dad looking on in bemusement at a 7 year old picking up trash when our family went for a walk and staying with friends who scattered coins on the ground because they observed my friend and I cleaning up our campsite area.  But for the most part, I thought that people had learned from the past and knew how to take care of our world.  This summer in West Virginia has taught me that I should take nothing for granted.  That I, as a teacher, should understand more than anyone that these values and ideals have to be instilled early on.
During the summer institute the concept of place based service learning along with the outdoor classroom and integrating core subjects seemed like such a logical way of reaching each of the students not only academically, but also with the values, goals, and problem solving skills that reaches into all areas of their lives, in their home, school, neighborhood, and community while making the most of their different learning styles.   Real problems needing real solutions.
 I came away from the summer institute inspired and excited, but, I have to admit, frustrated.  While I am ready to jump in with both feet I am hampered by logistics.  Our county has just purchased a brand new basal series and a brand new math program and we are required to use each in the manner they were intended.  How can I fit in all of these wonderful place based service ideas floating around in my head with a curriculum that requires me to teach each subject in an isolated manner?
Meeting with Sonja Carlborg, our local AT rep gave me some very good ideas for place based service learning.  Those ideas are represented in the picture below.  I hope that I will be able to utilize them.

Our Own Backyard

Post by Nancy Stevens, Gifted Teacher, Harmony Middle School, Loudoun County, VA

Where we pick up the pace…
When Lori Demark and I started our TTEC project, a hiking club at Harmony Middle School, we sat down and brainstormed ideas and expectations. We were in total agreement that every club meeting needed to have some time set side for an outdoor experience. While Harmony is close to the Appalachian Trail, it is not within walking distance nor is it feasible to get a bus for each meeting to get us there. We were going to have to find a way to get the outdoor experience we wanted for each meeting a little closer to home. Given these constraints, Lori and I strapped on our hiking shoes and took our brainstorming outside. It was decided that a 15-minute loop was the “just right” amount of time to spend outside each meeting as we began walking towards Harmony’s outdoor track.
Where we have a quiet place…
Just two years old, our track supports our PE department and their physical fitness needs. For our purposes, it would be an excellent place to “pick up the pace”. On the track, we would be able to assess the fitness of our hikers and give them a chance to converse while strolling leisurely on even ground. We next made our way north over a slight rise and down a hill where we discovered a “quiet place” where our hikers could sit and reflect…a place hidden from the school world and visible to no one.
We decided to use this place in our first meeting to conduct a quiet listening exercise.
Where we have left a trace…
Continuing on, we rounded a corner and passed by a group of trees. We could just make out the beginnings of our school baseball field and basketball courts. It was easy to see where we had ”left a trace” and made an impact on what used to be a farm called “Harmony”. This spot would be an ideal segue into a discussion on the “Leave No Trace” concept and the impact of man on his environment.
Our fifteen-minute walk came to an end at the back door entrance to the school. As we walked inside, we realized that to bring the culture of the AT to Harmony we did indeed need look no further then “Our Own Backyard”!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Youth Speak Out!

 Mechanical weathering- tree roots on a rock
 Post by: Rebecca Kyle, James River High School Buchanan, Virginia
The summit! Roaring Run Falls
YOVASO, Youth of Virginia Speak Out, had our first club “YOVAGO” outing to Roaring Run this past Saturday.  Highs of the Outing:  It was a beautiful day!  Everyone was enthusiastic and well prepared for the trip.  We were able to make trail kits and use some ideas from the “hip-pocket” activities to reflect on recent events.  Hikers made connections to earth science class as we observed examples of mechanical weathering and rock formations.  The Roaring Run loop hike in Eagle Rock is ideal for student trips.  It is about a mile and a half round trip and has easy access from the road.  It is interesting because there is an old iron furnace and a waterfall!   No one was injured or unhappy.  Lows of the Outing: Although I was much more organized in planning this outing we had a low student turn out.  Due to scheduling conflicts there was a band competition on the same morning as our hike!  Several other students were planning to attend but were already committed to band.
Trail safety poster

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blue Ridge Middle School: Get Up! Get Out! Get Moving!

Adventures in Learning bulletin board
displays unit connections to the outdoors.

Students at Blue Ridge Middle School are on the move in Spectrum and getting a double dose of the great outdoors! The bulletin board outside our classroom depicts our mascot (bulldog) zipping his way throughout this year’s curricular line-up and the vast opportunities to connect with nature. Since attending the TTEC sessions, I have enhanced the units I teach by incorporating hands-on, engaging activities into each unit of study to get the students I teach outside.  I want to send a shout-out to Sara Bolen, who is also busy across the hall (Health & PE) getting the same students outside.

Questing island tourists combing the green sand beaches 
A  Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island! September arrived, and the students in 6th and 7th grade Spectrum embarked on their first outdoor adventure known as, A Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island. Students, portraying tourists on a fictitious island (school campus), were divided into small groups and provided with a map of Island Management Crew to supervise and assist our tourists along the way. Our tourists, donned in grass skirts, hats, and sunglasses, had a great time combing the green sand beaches (grass), collaborating as a team to decipher each rhyming riddle to help them locate the treasure, and documenting what they discovered before heading off in search of the next item. The journal reflections from the students clearly revealed their enthusiasm for this activity and their unanimous desire to get back outside for another activity. I think they are hooked!
the island (school campus) and the first of many challenging riddles to take them out of the hut (school) and onto the island. Parent volunteers were eager to play along as our
 “A Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island!”
Tourists “walk the planks” on their island
adventure to locate the next treasure. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

“I’ve never been so excited for a school year”

In my 9th grade class, I started off with a brand new unit this year - a unit centered around place. Why does place matter? Through field trips, writing assignments, presentation opportunities and literature of our area, my hope is that students realize that place is important and teaches about history and ourselves, while also encouraging them to become “responsible global citizens.” The work we are doing will also prepare my students for a service learning opportunity in the spring, a trail maintenance day in collaboration with the Appalachian Mountain Club. My colleague, Kristy Duris, and I are also planning a 9th grade hike on the A.T. for our students and their parents.

Field trip to The Frost Place, once the home of famous poet, Robert Frost
Our field trips have been to The Frost Place in Franconia, NH, along with several historical sites such as the First Ski School of America in Sugar Hill. My students reflected on this experience:

“From our visit to The Frost Place I think I have developed a different perspective about poetry. Seeing how this was just a hobby at first but became his way of life was intriguing. He turned his passion into his job. I think that it is important for everyone to strive for this. Doing what you love is the only option if you strive for happiness.” -Carter

“I felt somehow connected to Robert Frost as I was walking through his house. I liked that in one spot there was a picture of him hanging on the wall, and where you would stand to look at the photo is where he is physically standing in the photo itself. Being in the house made me feel more connected history.” -Jayci
Place-based field trip to historical marker, "The Iron Furnace"

“The trip to the historical sites impacted the way that I look at where I live. I used to think that there was nothing to do around here, but this trip showed me just how much there is to do if you want to be in the wilderness and do different kinds of actives. It definitely showed me how cool this place can be.”  -Brandon

These responses only prove the importance of getting students outside, and connecting to their community. While surrounding the First Ski School historical marker, our class was writing in our journals when a photographer from our local paper took our picture and asked what we were doing. She thought it was great that students were being exposed to these landmarks.

Hike and nature journal field trip
The TTEC program has fostered collaboration amongst my colleagues, schools in different states and my community. I’ve been working with a member of my department to create rubrics for a research presentation (this will be a summative assessment for my 9th graders) that other people in our school will be able to use. The 9th grade Science teacher will incorporate a mini unit centered around place to tie into my curriculum. Kristy and I are working with the AMC for our trail maintenance day. We also presented about service learning and reflection to our colleagues at a staff meeting to share resources and encourage others to create service learning opportunities.

Thanks to Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet (from the TTEC program) for the opportunity, my husband and I presented our “Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail” lecture to their 4th and 5th grade students at Undermountain School in MA. What a fun experience for me going into an elementary school. I found it entertaining that most students “questions” turned into them telling us stories about a time they went hiking…My hubby and I never tire of sharing our experience. We want students to be prepared and safe when hiking, realize that hiking with a dog is a big responsibility, reflect upon what material things you really need in life (since everything you need when you are hiking is in your pack), living with the rhythms of nature is a life changing experience and a simple way of life, and it is the journey that matters the most.  My husband and I also share our A.T. lecture several times a year at the AMC (for the last 5 years), so hopefully we will continue to inspire more people to get outside and give back to the A.T. hiker community (volunteer work, trail magic, etc).

Place-based assignments that have worked well so far are:

  • My A.T. Reads project: for every extra choice book a student reads, they need to write a reflection/critique and then they earn 100 miles on the A.T. - if they read an extra 22 books a year, they make it all the way to Maine. I have a chart that hangs in the back of my room that monitors the progress
  • Literature Circle for A.T. choice book - my students are reading a book about the A.T. Some of the titles they chose are: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Called Again by Jennifer Pharr Davis, Blind Courage by Bill Erwin, Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer, and Just Passin Thru by Winton Porter. We will have a class literature circle to discuss a summary, connections, themes, emotional responses, quotes and critiques of the books. This will prepare my students for their hike on the A.T.
  • Writing marathon at historical sites (See Plymouth State University’s guide)
  • I also used this for an A.T. writing marathon by showing students a slideshow of pictures from the A.T.
  • Using George Ella Lyon’s “Where I am From” poem. After creating a list of favorites from childhood, students created their own poem using the same structure and repetition. Then each student shared their favorite line and we combined these for a class “Where we are From” poem. We organized and punctuated this (this was an effective poetry lesson!).
  • Reading stories, especially haunted ones about our area in NH.
  • Reading and discussing why people write.
  • Listening to “Granite State of Mind”, the Jay-Z parody and analyzing biases.

Like Sue Garcia said at our summer institute, “I’ve never been so excited for a school year.” Not only am I passionate about what I am teaching, but I have supportive administration and colleagues to encourage and help me.  I feel really lucky, like my students, “to live in such a beautiful area” (from a student reflection) and have access to the A.T. and other amazing places right out my door.
My husband and I presenting our Appalachian Trail lecture to our TTEC colleagues, Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet's 4th and 5th grade classes at Undermountain School in MA

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Small Steps

Inspired by the Trail To Every Classroom workshops, I decided to start incorporating the outdoors into my lessons.  Students are always asking to have class outside, so why not grant their wish. The lesson seemed simple:  Take some time to walk around and find something inspiring.  The outdoors is filled with amazing sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.  Take a few pictures of what you have found.  Use different angles to really capture what has caught your attention.  Then, write a descriptive paragraph (or two) that describes what you have found.

It was a beautiful day in late September.  I opened the door next to my classroom, and sent my students out into the world of place-based learning.  Unfortunately, like a house cat that steps on grass for the first time, my students stepped outside and froze.  The majority of them took three quick pictures of the first tree they saw.  The tree right next to the school.  Then, they sat down leaning against the school to write their paragraphs.

Apparently, I needed to explain the the outdoor classroom is a bit bigger than just the shadow of the school building.

Being determined to make this work and be a meaningful experience for my students, I made a simple modification to the assignment.  The next class, we went outside again.  This time I led them out past the school lawn toward the woods.  On the way, I had them take a picture of the tall grass in the field.  Then, we entered the woods.  They were told to look around.  Just look around.  We found a birdhouse on the side of a tree.  We took a picture of it.  Now we had two different pictures to write about for this assignment.  Finally, instead of going back to the school, we sat a picnic table at the edge of the woods.  They just needed a little guidance and to be pointed in the right direction.

There were a few complaints about how hot it was out, but overall the second time was more what I was hoping.  Also, the paragraphs were better and more inspired.  Will I take kids outside again? Yes.  Will I take kids on a hike? Yes.  Will it be tomorrow?  No.  Introducing students to outdoor education will take some time.  However, with determination, this can and will work.  All with small steps...

Zack Reinstein
Buckfield High School

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Carolyn Hits the Trail!

Carolyn McCarthy Jackson (teacher in GA) and Murphy Margaret paying a visit to Benton MacKaye!

The Springer Mountain summit was gorgeous today (10-13-13).

My husband got funny looks today since I had the heavy pack. I need a shirt that says BACKPACKER IN TRAINING!

Thanks TTEC for helping me work on being more brave!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grayson ECO club Participates in Phenology

The Grayson County High School ECO club visited the ATC phenology site at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park on Sept. 29, 2013.  This was the second time the group gathered to hike and collect phenology data. The students observed and recorded data on red maple, red spruce, and cinquifoil. Carol Broderson from the Mt Rogers Appalachian Trail Club was there to point out wild flowers and identify trees. Rebecca Absher, a science teacher and graduate of TTEC also joined us.  The students hiked on the Cabin Creek Trail and enjoyed their lunch by a waterfall. The plan was to also hike on the AT but we ran out of time.  The group plans to work on the AT with the Mt Rogers Appalachian Trail Club on Nov. 17.
Other events taking place at Grayson County High School involving the ECO club include a new school garden through a grant from the Whole Kids Foundation and an on going project to rid our school cafeteria of styrofoam.

Bringing the A.T. to Colonial Heights

The title of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine is Journeys.  That is a fitting title for the beginning of my TTEC adventure.  Upon my return from TTEC 2013, I had a number of people ask how I would bring the AT to a city that sits 2 hours from the Trail. I explained that’s it’s not just the AT, but it’s about connecting kids with meaningful opportunities in their community and getting them outside.  The end goal of course, is to get them onto the trail.  To that end, we have begun talking to local organizations in an attempt to identify the needs of the community.  My students are enthusiastic about the idea of getting outside and engaging in meaningful services opportunities.
Thus, we continue to be on the lookout for organizations that want to partner with our students.  We are on the beginning steps of our Appalachian Trail journey.

Dan Pulskamp

Colonial Heights High School

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Skyping Adventure!

I had a great Skype video call with a 4th grade class in Georgia this morning.  The students all asked fantastic questions about the Trail; we talked about volunteers, hiking, and they were especially interested in Trail Angels.  Researching the Trail for several weeks now, they developed a great presentation! Watch it here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Excited is an Understatement!

Post by Sarah McGlothlinNarrows Elementary Middle School, VA

I walked away from our last AT session feeling revived with excitement.  The collaboration from other teachers was energizing.  Most of all, I walked away with a greater wealth of knowledge not only from the presenters but also from the teachers I was fortunate enough to collaborate with during the stay in West Virginia. 
 I have been pleasantly surprised with the willingness to incorporate the plan my group came up with at our summer meeting from not only our building administrator, but also from other teachers.  Our principal even  included us in his annual written plan.  In addition, Donna, Crissy, and I have been requested to present our plan to our local school board. 
I think this will open up many avenues for the knowledge of Mill Creek area and the AT trail to expand in our community.
  As you can see from the pictures above, today I took a group of 44 students to the site.  I was extremely nervous about taking a large group to the site, but after the first hour the joy of the student’s faces made every amount of fear go away.  They thoroughly enjoyed the hike, small activities, and the leaf identification.  We tagged several trees to come back and view over the next several months.  Feeling excited with the amount of progress today is an understatement.  I truly can’t wait to go back, explore, and continue to open up the minds of the students.  Without the support of the AT staff, I wouldn’t have ever dreamed that I could accomplish this outdoor classroom.  In addition, the amount of learning in this environment cannot be surpassed.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Trail to Trail: Leave No Trace on the Boulder Face

Planning the TTEC unit was fun for me -- I especially love the unit template and plan to convert all my place-based units to that format -- but even more exciting is seeing the plan come to life. When you add kids to the plans, you add the magical ingredient that brings learning to life. Add a sprinkle of serendipity and you have place-based experiential learning at its best.

We've been in school only 18 days, but Leave No Trace on the Boulder Face is already rolling. We took our Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs hike about 2 weeks ago (see the bracelets in the photo representing each level of needs) and we are currently examining how a character in a book we are reading meets his most basic needs as he tries to survive alone deep in the forest (Hatchet by Gary Paulsen).

Last week we did a habitat study in a local community park which helped us to develop our understanding of the 5 Elements of Survival and how humans can impact other living things both positively and negatively. This will also contribute to our systems-focus on vandalism on the AT.

And we've started our work toward understanding vandalism with two experiences we've had very close to our classroom recently -- vandalism in the school bathrooms and vandalism in our tiny schoolyard wildlife sanctuary. While vandalism on our South Mountain Trail has always been a concern of my fifth graders, seeing vandalism on our own property is personal and makes the issue less "what's wrong with those people?" and more like "hey, what is going on with us?".

Next week my class takes on the issue of vandalism in our little wildlife sanctuary by presenting Leave No Trace principles (and signs) to our entire Seven Gen community in an all-school morning meeting. They chose to present the importance of Leave No Trace from the perspective of the worms that live there. This is one small step toward our larger service learning challenge - dealing with the vandalism on our own boulder field at South Mountain and then on Bake Oven Knob, the highlight of our section of the Appalachian Trail (see the photo above). My parents took me to hike on that section so often as a child that I had the trail not only to the boulder knob memorized, but also in the other direction about 2 miles out to Bare Rocks. It still stuns me to see how the boulder field has been defaced. Watching people try to take photos of the lookout with graffiti on the rocks is just sad. Our first trip to the AT is scheduled for October 25th, so we have one month to get ready for that experience, which I know will make a huge impact on my kids. 

Post by:
Alison Saeger Panik
TTEC 2013
Teacher, Grade 5
Seven Generations Charter School
Emmaus, Pennsylvania

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Off and Running…

Sara Bolen, Purcellville, VA Blue Ridge Middle School
Lots of things are going on at Blue Ridge Middle School; we now have the first two weeks of school under our belt.  There are ides flying around in regards to TTEC, some of which include possibly sharing our kiosk, with our “sister” school, Harmony Middle, participating in family hike day on September 28th, teaching the PE classes the hike safe principles and much more.  We will continue teaching the sixth grade students about the Leave No Trace principles.  On the first and second days of school, the Physical Education classes brought every student (943 of them), to the outdoor classroom.  Here we discussed things that they may do in the outdoor classroom like water testing, observation and journaling.  For the last 2 years we have had a mother goose come and make her nest in the our outdoor classroom.  We are hoping she will continue this spring.  While we had the students out there, we also began the introduction of Leave No Trace, this is a review for our seventh and eighth grade students and new material that our sixth graders will learn in their keyboarding class with Mrs. Allen, former TTEC grad!   We have also created a TTEC committee that includes other teachers who have been through the TTEC program, 2 administrators and other teachers who are interested in this program.  

The bulletin board we created highlights points of interest along
the Trail within an hour or two of our school.
Another idea we are thinking of introducing to the school is the “4 seasons” hiking club.  This is a club that would meet during activity period, but 4 times during the school year we would have them participate in a local hike on the Appalachian Trail.  These hikes would be on a Saturday or Sunday, and parents would hike with the students.  We think that utilizing the trail this way, would eliminate a lot of the issues as far as funding for field trips, taking a large group out and any liability issues, this would also increase the communities awareness of the Appalachian Trail.  The TTEC committee will be meeting in the next week to discuss this possibility.

Harpers Ferry, Where the rivers meet
We have also begun discussions with our high school and their outdoor recreation classes.   I spoke with the recreation teacher and we discussed possibly having his students serve as “hiking guides” on our 4 seasons hikes, teaching our students some outdoor cooking, helping with the hike safe kits, the possibilities are endless.  Our hopes are to get students interested in the outdoors so when they get to the high school, in their junior and senior year, they will choose the outdoor recreation class as their PE elective.

Walking around the school this first week there are many trail themes in the hallways, not only are students learning what teams they are on; Trailblazers, Trekkers, Explorers, Voyagers, Mountaineers and Pathfinders, but they are learning to navigate the hallways; Shenandoah River, Appalachian Trail, Snickers Gap etc.  Many of the bulletin boards and showcases have an outdoor theme to them.  I have included a picture of the showcase I created; it includes many entrance points within an hour drive of our school where students can get on the trail.  Some of these include Weverton Cliffs, Bears Den, Raven Rock, Skyline Drive and Harpers Ferry; we also included other points of interest like the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Maryland Heights and the C & O Canal.  One of our goals this year is to have students become more aware of what is around them and make them realize how easy it is to access all of these places of interest.   

My kids and I at Jefferson Rock
They had so much fun we came back and went up
to Weverton Cliffs! Thanks to Bob Sickley, I felt like a pro!

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald