News: Outdoor education STEMs into great learning opportunity
Story by Leon Roberts
ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. – Students from West Cheatham Elementary School participated in Environmental Awareness Day at Cheatham Lake today and the outdoor setting provided a unique learning opportunity away from their classrooms.
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 Cheatham organized the day’s activities to promote STEM topics to the kids that participated and they learned about subjects such as wildlife, conservation, water cycle, caring for the environment, recycling, and water safety.
Lauren Shumake, a fourth grader, said being outside is great and seeing the red tailed hawk and great horned owl at the Tennessee State Parks learning station really made her day.
“I like animals and he (the park ranger) told me that the owl and the hawk would get rid of mice if I ever have mice,” she said. “So I think I liked that the most.”
Other organizations represented at the Cheatham Lake Environmental Awareness Day included the Nashville Zoo, Project Wet from Austin Peay University, Sierra Club Middle Tennessee Group, Davidson County Soil and Water Conservation, Cheatham County Soil and Conservation District, and Robinson County Soil Conservation District.
The students recently completed the Tennessee Comprehensive Progress tests and so getting outside to let loose and have fun learning served to motivate them. More than 100 kids were separated into smaller groups of about 20 and moved every 20 minutes from one learning station to another.
“I thought they were all fun and it helped me learn a lot about stuff that I didn’t know about,” Shumake said. “When I’m actually doing stuff, instead of reading it and looking at it, (it) helps me better just doing it.”
Park Ranger Dean Austin, Nashville District, shared his knowledge of water safety and said it’s important to give these kids knowledge that can help them as they grow up and pursue future careers.
In the case of water safety, he said knowing what to do around the water might just be enough to save theirs or a friend’s life.
“It’s very important to get these kids at a young age, get this ingrained in their minds, (so) they know they need to be safe,” Austin said.
Brian Lewis, a 4th grade language arts teacher at West Cheatham Elementary School, said the teachers tell the students early in the year that at the end of school they will take a science field trip, and they really look forward to it.
“They get really excited about it, just getting to do hands-on things that they’ve been learning about through the year,” Lewis said. “It reinforces the things that we’re teaching in the classroom. They are a bright group of kids and they’ve been taught all year and they’re retaining that and they do a good job remembering those things. And then to get to see it in real-life situations out here brings it to life for them.”
Park Ranger Mike Kuntz, Nashville District, said as valuable as the learning activities were for the kids, it would not be possible without the volunteers and partnerships between the school and the organizations represented.
“Without their cooperation we certainly couldn’t do this program,” Kuntz said.
He also said that he has received positive feedback from parents in past years.
“We’ve always heard that they really like the programs and the different topics. And it really gets the kids interested in the environment, so that’s great,” Kuntz added.