News: Students get ‘hands-on’ environmental lessons at Old Hickory Lake
Story by Leon Roberts
HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. – About 150 sixth-grade students from Hawkins Middle School received “hands-on” environmental lessons today on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake.
The kids arrived at Rockland Recreation Area early in the morning, formed smaller groups, and rotated among 11 learning stations to interact with experts in various environmental career fields.
Representatives from the Nashville District, U.S. Forest Service, Cumberland River Compact, Tennessee State Parks, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Metro Parks, National Resources Conservation Service and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Sixth grader Kiera Vallee, 12, said she really enjoyed being outdoors by the lake and getting her hands-on items on display at the learning stations and really like seeing the live corn snake a Corps ranger presented to the groups.
“I didn’t know they didn’t have a bladder,” Vallee said about snakes. “It was cool. The more you pay attention the more you know.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District promotes events like this that encourages learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The park rangers at Old Hickory Lake organized the day’s activities to promote STEM topics to the kids that participated.
The partnership between the community and schools is great way for the kids to apply what they are learning in the classroom, said Dr. Stan Cole, sixth-grade science teacher at Hawkins Middle School.
“One of the things the kids ask is, ‘why do I have to learn about science?’ That question comes often. And when they can actually come out and have an experience like this and talk to a bunch of different people who work in different kinds of environmental businesses and companies … they get to see what the possibilities for them personally are,” Cole said. “They also get an appreciation for the outside that many of them don’t have because spend a lot of time playing with their Game Boys and watching television. So this is just a great experience for them.”
Abby Warren, a sixth-grade science and math teacher at Hawkins Middle School, said the Environmental Awareness Day activities provide the students learning experiences not possible in the classroom.
She said the various organizations and experts on hand provide insight into a number of different topics and the result is kids get to expand their knowledge.
“This is a great end-of-the-year activity for our students. They are learning but they don’t really know they’re learning. They’re having fun while they’re doing it,” Warren said.
Warren said Old Hickory Lake is a huge resource for learning and the school is glad to take advantage of opportunities where the kids can get into the outdoors and enjoy practical experiences.
“We’re five minutes down the road from here so it’s really nice to come out here and not be far away and it’s an easy trip for us to make,” Warren added. “Environmental science is something that we teach in sixth grade, and so this is a perfect addition to what we’re learning this year and what the kids are tested on for TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Program). It’s been cool to see them remember what we learned in the classroom and be able to apply it out here in the real world.”
The Old Hickory Lake park rangers and staff sponsored several learning stations that provided information about wildlife and the environment.
Park Ranger Robert Earhart led an activity at one learning station where he explained “carrying capacity,” which is the number of animals a given area of land or water can support over time.
He organized a game for the kids to help them understand the interaction between the animals and their need for space, shelter, food and water.
“When kids can come to the park and actually see the environment first hand, I think it makes all the difference in the world,” Earhart said. “Just to be here, and be hands on, and see the trees, see the grass, and see the animals, it’s a big difference instead of just learning about it on a chalk board or watching it on TV. Here they can feel the wetness on their feet, they can hear the birds chirp – it’s a whole different circumstance for the kids and it’s great to be in this environment.”
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