Students at William E. Miller Elementary in Bend have been participating in an exciting NatureHood project this academic year! Ms. William’s 5th grade students have spent their year learning about the relationship between plants and pollinators. The NatureHood project has given Ms. William’s students an opportunity to conduct their own research on the importance of biodiversity in different habitats and get hands on stewardship experience. The students are applying what they learn in the classroom to discover how humans can use science to protect the Earth’s resources and the environment, including the monarch butterfly.
The monarch butterfly is an important pollinator and member of the food chain. Unfortunately, monarchs face significant threats, such as loss of important food sources and habitat. The students at Miller Elementary have designated their NatureHood to be a Monarch Waystation. The Waystation creates favorable habitat for the pollinators and the species they depend upon. The students spent their fall planting milkweed, a plant that the monarch relies upon for food and a place to lay their eggs. The students get to make decisions on how the Waystation should be managed, and are investigating monarch and pollinator needs, taking into consideration what other animals are here, who uses the garden, and how they can protect the pollinator’s habitat.
The NatureHood project at Miller Elementary has improved access for students to connect with the wonder of science and nature. The school designed the NatureHood to feature an amphitheater providing the ideal setting for outdoor learning. The garden itself provides a great outdoor classroom for all teachers, not just Ms. Williams, to utilize. In fact, other classrooms have experienced outdoor lessons in the garden as a result of the program. Additionally, the school has made the pathway of the garden wheelchair accessible.
At the classroom level, the NatureHood project has provided a great outlet to enrich lesson plans and engage students at a deeper level. A student of Ms. William’s class mentioned that “the NatureHood gives us more hands on experience” which “is better because it’s more interesting for us.” The NatureHood also allows students to develop observations and form a better understanding of the natural world. The students become aware of processes and systems, and foster a sense of awareness of their role in the environment. While describing the learning impacts of the NatureHood project, Ms. Williams stated that “they love being outside, and I think the kids are a lot more aware of their environment”.
During a tour of Miller Elementary’s NatureHood, it was apparent that Ms. William’s students were observant of environmental processes and were applying what they learned in the classroom to the NatureHood itself. While describing potential locations for additional gardens in the spring, one student stated,”we wanted to plant our garden here, but we didn’t want to remove these trees,” noting the importance of habitat for other species. The students were also connecting key science standards, like where milkweed plants get what they need for growth. “We have the irrigation system to water the plants during the school year” said one student “and in the summer I guess the rain would water the plants”. He then noticed a tall tree near the Milkweed garden. “Wait, I’m guessing the irrigation system would have to be on in the summer because that big tree would probably take most of the water!” quickly correcting himself.
According to the students, the NatureHood has also inspired them to be stewards of the land and the world around them. One student mentioned that she values nature “more now” and enjoys “watching plants start from nothing to something.” Additionally, the students are more aware of the role nature plays in their day to day life, stating that “without nature, we wouldn’t be here.” The project has instilled a sense of ownership and responsibility for protecting nature and its resources.
Ms. William’s NatureHood will ideally be continued throughout the years as a part of her curriculum, expanding the reach of outdoor learning to future 5th grade students. However, it doesn’t end there. “This is a big legacy project” one student stated, mentioning additional side projects within the NatureHood. For example, Ms. Williams hopes to incorporate interactive interpretive signs into the Waystation so people of all ages can learn about plants and pollinators. The goal is to incorporate QR codes into the signage that can be scanned by smartphones or other devices, which will give visitors access to digital slideshows and information.
This project was made possible by teachers, volunteers, and donations. The school also received a NatureHood mini-grant from the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon to support the project. NatureHood mini-grants support projects in schoolyards or neighborhood parks that improve habitat, promote stewardship, enhance visitor experiences, or improve access for outdoor learning. To learn more about this resource, click here.