February 24, 2013

Classroom in the pines

If Edgecomb teacher Glenn Powers has his way, no child will be left behind when it comes to the lessons of the great outdoors.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

JEFFERSON — A dozen fifth- and sixth-graders spread out across the snow. And looking like a yoga class in the middle of nowhere, they stretched out their hands, got down on their hands and knees, and cupped their ears as if in a primitive ritual.

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Joe Guenther, 11, leads classmates carrying a ladder into the woods so his group can hang a nesting box for northern flickers as part of the Center for Teaching and Learning’s hands-on scientific research that their teacher feels is essential to a child’s development.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Teacher Glenn Powers lectures students by the warming hut at the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson as part of the curriculum of the “40 Days in the Woods” program.

Additional Photos Below

Welcome to Edgecomb teacher Glenn Powers' class, "40 Days in the Maine Woods."

Richard Louv's got nothing on Powers.

But the author of the best-seller "Last Child in the Woods" would surely give a nod to the Edgecomb teacher who this year created an entire grade-school science class set in the woods.

Each week, the children in Powers' class at The Center for Teaching and Learning travel a half-hour to Hidden Valley Nature Center for wildlife lessons followed by hands-on scientific research they collect for organizations looking for wildlife inventory data collected by citizen scientists.

Two weeks ago on a mild winter day, the students stood in the snow displaying to the best of their ability the keen senses of owls, deer and coyote. The barred owls' remarkable vision, the coyotes' sense of smell and the whitetail's hearing were explained to the students in exercises that had them act out each animal's unique attribute.

"When you focus on all these things at once in the forest, a new world will open up to you. You'll notice more things and become a master tracker," Powers told them.

Then the data collection began and they went off in different directions to thread a camera into a beaver den, hang nesting boxes for four bird species, and check their brush piles for signs of small critters.

The active, gym-class-like format and the scientific experiments kept the students not only on task, but silent like black bears.

But this is what Louv promised in his groundbreaking book that demanded educators incorporate the natural world into their course work: "Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses," Louv wrote. "In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace."

At The Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Powers has embraced these concepts whole-heartedly in his 40-day class. Of course, Powers has some flexibility at The Center, an independent school founded in 1990.

The school is accredited by the state and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, but it brings a focus on original, hands-on work that includes research and experiments, as well as data collection and analysis.

"The goal is to come to the woods, do the activity and collect data. We are full-bore doing science. They're not just being given facts, they are learning everything about doing the science that gives us the facts. Their bird ID skills are phenomenal; their tracking skills are good," Powers said.

With so many critters across Maine's landscape being studied by a multitude of wildlife biologists and scientists, the opportunity for meaningful wildlife studies by students is limitless.

With this in mind, Powers reached out to a half-dozen wildlife experts and asked what data his students could collect. The class now has a half-dozen studies in which they collect real data to turn over to scientists and biologists in Maine, such as coyote howling recordings, salamander counts, bird counts, bird-nesting box counts and tree species identification.

Pat Maloney in Augusta is delighted to see a new school group sign up to collect forest inventory data. At the Maine Tree Foundation, Maloney coordinates the state's Project Learning Tree curriculum with the forest growth data the state needs.

In 10 years, Maloney has seen her program take hold in classrooms in Auburn, Topsham, Machias, Jay and Newport, where teachers take students out to gather tree species information, and measure the health and diameter of trees.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Glenn Powers’ students aren’t hearing no evil; they’re attempting to view a snowy day in the woods from the keen senses of the critters who dwell there.

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Emma Hall, 11, drills a hole so she can hang a nesting box for northern flickers, a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family.


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