County Lands: Site for Field Studies
Unity Elementary Visits Marshall Pond
Unity Elementary 7th and 8th grade students and their teachers embarked on a field study journey with Sullivan County this December. The social studies and science teachers wanted to visit the Marshall Pond Education Site, so Sullivan County's Education and Outreach Specialist worked with them to create a field study that would benefit everyone. The study focus was inspired by Tom Wessel’s book, Reading the Forested Landscape, which teaches readers how to look for clues in the present forest community that when interpreted, shine a light on past land use.
Since a forest is composed of and defined by trees, the first thing the students did was learn how to better observe trees in a forest. They observed trees in their schoolyard and clipped twigs to bring inside for closer inspection. They sketched and wrote down observations in their journals, so they could add to them as they learned more. The goal of these observations were twofold, to learn the skill of observation and to really see the characteristics of the twigs that would lead to identification of the trees in a forest.
Then, the students learned how to use a dichotomous key, a tool that breaks large groups of organisms into two smaller groups based on obvious characteristic differences and continues to break each group into two until there is only one species left, at which point an identity is given. Throughout this process, students were gathering evidence and adding it to their journals to support their final tree identity claim.
After honing their observation and tree identification skills, the students were ready to visit the forest near Marshall Pond and survey the tree community there. The survey involved creating 2 sample plots, identifying all the trees in the plot and measuring the circumference of each tree identified. They observed the forest as a whole and noted the presence of specific features such as pit and mount topography, basal scars on trees, many trunked trees, stumps cut by a saw, and irregular growth patterns. All clues that could lead to a better understanding of the land use history of this particular forest.
This winter, the students will analyze and interpret the data collected in order to get a better understanding of the story of this forest community. They may look through town records and talk to community members to learn more about how the Marshall Pond forest was used by people in the past. All the while, gathering more evidence to support their land use history claims/conclusions. They will share their conclusions through presenting a concept map to their peers.
In the spring, Unity Elementary teachers and students hope to go back to this forest and get a new perspective. By studying natural and cultural history of the Marshall Pond forest, Unity Elementary 7th and 8th grade students are making lasting connections to the place they call home. This is place-based ecology education (PBEE) at its best.
Benefits of Field Studies
Field studies play an important role in connecting students to a place as well as give students the opportunity to apply science practices in the field that cannot otherwise be applied in the classroom. They allow teachers to evaluate their students’ knowledge and skills related to NGSS in a real world context. Field studies that are local provide motivation for learning, build ecological awareness, connect students to their community, and foster stewardship. Field studies allow for partnerships with local organizations, involve community members, and provide information for everyone involved.
If you would like to set-up a field study, please contact Dawn Dextraze.