Midwest Region
Conserving the Nature of America

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Blair Schools Outdoor Education Partnership

August 17, 2010

Another Successful Year for DeSoto NWR/Blair Community Schools Environmental Education Partnership

Through the Blair/DeSoto Environmental Education Partnership, students meet curriculum standards in core and exploratory subject areas while learning in an authentic, place-based experience at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.

In school year 2009-2010, students from Blair Community Schools 5th, 7th and High School Environmental Studies classes visited the refuges six times for programs integrated into classroom studies. This school year yielded 2,887 student visits to the refuge to participate in 79 programs. This partnership not only promotes academic excellence it also increases FWS awareness and appreciation while increasing visitation to the refuge.

All students in Blair 5th, 7th and High School environmental science made six successive trips this year to the refuge where they get real life experience studying topics they learn about the in the classroom as part of their participation in the Blair/DeSoto Environmental Education Partnership. This report details the spring class visits which build upon visits that occurred during the fall semester.

This spring 5th graders have learned about adaptations and predator/prey relationship by studying the Bald Eagle. During this three hour program, students took part in an indoor presentation about the Bald Eagle and then a refuge tour to get to see Bald Eagles. Seeing the Bald Eagle nest on the refuge was a highlight for many students. The 5th graders have developed observation and critical thinking skills through a scientific inquiry program at the refuge. During this three hour program, rangers guided students through activities designed to help students use their senses like describing the smell of leaves or the feel of a deer jawbone. Then students are asked to use these skills during a one hour silent observation time on a refuge trail. For the 5th grade students, the year culminated with the all day Outdoor Education Day where students get to participate in a variety of outdoor activities including cooking breakfast over a campfire, fishing and canoeing on DeSoto Lake, wetland investigation at Wood Duck Pond and a snake encounter session. For the year, the 5th grade classes visited DeSoto NWR six times for three hour sessions.

Fifth grader Austen Churchill summed up the year this way, “At first I didn’t know much about nature. That changed this year when I went to DeSoto. Nobody knows everything about nature, but I have learned a lot of things about nature. This summer, I plan to go back to DeSoto and walk on a trail. I might end up studying nature when I grow up.”

For 7th grade students, their spring trip to the refuge included a little bit of everything they had been studying in the classrooms. Students participated in a bird migration game to learn the importance of stopovers and resting spots during migration and how DeSoto NWR helps to fill some of that need. Students spent some time in the woods looking for birds to observe. They also completed a math activity using proportions to estimate the total number of trees in the forest. These activities all tied back to concepts being studied in the classroom. For the year, the 7th grade classes visited the refuge six times for an hour and a half at a time.

Middle School exploratory technology students used the refuge to learn about digital photography. A pilot program this school year, students will be assisting the refuge in years to come with documenting habitat projects taking place on the refuge. Other potential projects are being discussed for this exciting new part of the partnership.

The high school environmental studies classes used the refuge to study soil quality, water quality and fire ecology this spring. These are all lessons being taught in the classroom but having the refuge as an authentic learning experience helps the students make real world connections to the material learned in the classroom. Wildlife Refuge Specialist Steve Van Riper worked with these classes to provide students the perspective of a wildlife biologist on the refuge. For the year, the high school environmental studies classes visited the refuge six times for an hour and a half each.

The school year concluded with a teacher’s workshop for twelve Blair teachers and two administrators. The workshop focused on nature journals and was co-taught by DeSoto NWR Visitor Services Specialist Ashley Berkler and Prairie Wetlands Learning Center Instructional Systems Specialist Dave Ellis. Teacher evaluations rated the workshop excellent. One teacher wrote “It [the workshop] gave me many ideas to incorporate into my classroom. It gave me a chance to enjoy the outdoors.”

Both the refuge and school district are committed to the continued success and growth of this partnership. Blair Community Schools Superintendent Jane Stavem said “Outdoor education is a unique opportunity for our students to learn district curriculum in a completely authentic environment. It allows students to learn through experience, rather than a simulated situation in a classroom. I have seen the difference it makes and I think every student should have the opportunity to experience this type of hands-on, real learning experience. It is really the essence of what true learning is all about.”

Next school year, the current grades and classes will continue to utilize the refuge with the addition of 3rd, 6th, and 8th grade classes plus art and exploratory technology classes beginning to use the refuge for their studies several times a school year. The 2009-2010 school year yielded a total of 79 programs and 2,887 student visits by students in Blair Community Schools.

This is the fourth year of the Blair/DeSoto Environmental Education Partnership. The mission of the partnership is to create a sense of wonder through environmental education in an outdoor classroom, a partnership with the Blair Community Schools “Where all Students Learn” and DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge “Where Wildlife Comes First”.

For more information on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/desoto/

Last updated: February 12, 2013