—This article, written by June Pichel Cook, appeared originally on December 12, 2018 in The Hardwick Gazette. We are grateful for permission to reprint it.

CRAFTSBURY – The Craftsbury Academy Woodlot Nature Curriculum was developed by fourteen Sterling College students from instructor John Zaber’s Experiential Curriculum Design class. They presented the curriculum last week to Craftsbury School Principal Merri Greenia, Work Experience Coordinator Francine Valcour, and members of the Craftsbury School Woodlot Committee.

Committee member Rob Libby said the woodlot provides a wonderful opportunity to provide educational activities while protecting nature and providing recreational opportunities. The curriculum, although designed within site-specific Craftsbury School Woodlot,  has flexibility to be modified within other settings.

The introductory comments state the curriculum “places the student at the center of the learning process and relies greatly on the process of guided self-discovery.”

Zaber explained the Sterling students toured the Craftsbury Academy woodlot with Libby and forester Ross Morgan. They chose to focus on four sites: Big Pine Tree, Wetlands, Pine Plantation and Lean-To.  The curriculum is designed primarily for 4th and 5th graders and adaptable to younger or older age groups.

Sterling College students Eliza Dery and Ian Statema presented the curriculum designed specifically for utilizing the Craftsbury Elementary School woodlot as an outdoor classroom for 4th and 5th graders. photo credit: June Cook

Sterling College Senior Eliza Dery, whose major study is ecology, said the curriculum reflects many disciplines and people coming together in one space with diverse interests.  The class of fourteen Sterling students represents different emphases from ecology majors to outdoor education and creative arts. The students had split into four groups and worked with 4th and 5th graders from the Craftsbury Elementary School.

“The children were very dynamic and curious,” she said.  “We combined the children’s interests and our experience in designing this.”

Dery’s major is ecology based, and her inputs reflected looking at the communities within the four areas.

“The skill set that is developed is making observations and relating them,” Dery said. “There is a connection with relating this to natural resources. Observation relates to other disciplines.”

Ian Statema, a Junior at Sterling, explained his interest focused on soil studies, topography, and plant life.  Some of the activities designed are atypical to traditional classrooms, including character acting and the visual arts.

“It looks so beautiful on paper; but when you introduce it to students, you have to constantly adapt what you are teaching and needs will vary,” Dery said.   “These are lesson plans that are flexible; this is a working document.”

She explained the lessons are mini units with sessions ranging from one hour to one and a half hours. Each unit can be broken down into smaller pieces.

Principal Greenia said transporting students to the woodlot entails time; therefore,  consideration of spending a portion of the school day at the woodlot is more in keeping with using the time efficiently.

Dery felt the curriculum could be adapted within a classroom situation and in an urban area school where the extensive natural resources of the woodlot were not available.

One Sterling College student explained an experiential curriculum opens up questions that leads to people realizing they have a lot of knowledge within their own grasp.

Valcour asked if teachers might feel intimidated as the subject matter would not be within their discipline.  Both Dery and Statema explained the curriculum was comprehensive in its activities and modifiable to many disciplines.

An introductory statement to the Craftsbury Academy Woodlot Nature Curriculum explains it was the intent of the design to bring alive “the Craftsbury Academy Woodlot as a recreational and educational asset.”

It reflects the vision and creativity shown by CA teachers, students, and community members “who have dedicated countless hours to the protection and management of this valuable piece of property.”

The Sterling students carefully measured the long-term impacts of the project and relationship to the Sterling College mission with a deep emphasis on environmental stewardship.  Their expressed hope is the curriculum “inspires teachers, students and community members to further develop curriculum and activities that will give rise to the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Filed Under: Blog Outdoor Education