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Carpenters Elementary taps community expertise for science day

posted Oct 3, 2016, 7:14 AM by Chris Whitehorne   [ updated Oct 3, 2016, 7:14 AM ]
Carpenters Elementary’s students learned about nature Friday from businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and postsecondary institutions that are studying it every day.

More than 30 professionals served as volunteer teachers for Carpenters Science Day. They oversaw 12 stations that covered topics including Tennessee’s aquatic bugs, caves, fish, insects, minerals, prairies, rocks, songbirds, streams, wetlands and wild mammals.

In addition to volunteer teachers, more than 40 college students and parents turned out to work the stations. Both Maryville College and University of Tennessee provided 10 students.

Billy Minser, a retired UT research associate/instructor in wildlife and fisheries science, coordinated the event. Its theme was environmental education.

“Blount County is such a fine place to live,” Minser said. “It’d be hard to find a more beautiful place to live in this country. However, it only stays that way if we take care of it — and that needs to be in the public consciousness.

“We need conservation, land and water ethics,” Minser said. “And, we can’t wait until someone is 25 years old to instill those ethics. It needs to start early, both at school and home. Everybody came out today because they believe in that mission.”

‘Perfect marriage’

“Carpenters Science Day is the perfect marriage of missions for us,” said Dr. David Unger, assistant professor of biology at Maryville College. “The college feels a need to reach out and give back to the community. It also seeks to teach its students — and they never learn as well as when they teach it.

“It might look like my students are doing something for the school,” Unger said. “However, it is as valuable, if not more, for my students. They’re learning the value of education, learning the value of what they’re doing in the classroom and applying it in a practical way. I hope they grow up to teach kids, stay engaged and vote in an ecologically literate way.”

He also hopes that elementary-schoolers will stay interested in biology and ecology, noting that students tend to lose interest in middle and high school. “We need to get them back, because we’re training the next generation in high school and college. They’re the ones who will create businesses and work at the local, state and federal levels.”

“We’re trying to teach them,” said Kyle Brazil, who is a doctorate student/graduate research assistant at the University of Tennessee. “However, it’s clear they’ve learned a lot from Billy Minser and their teachers. They know a lot of what we’re teaching.”

Carpenters Outdoor Environmental Education Classroom is an example of place-based education, said Dr. Mark Fly, coordinator of UT’s wildland recreation concentration and director/founder of the Human Dimensions Research Lab. PBE immerses students in local cultures, heritage, landscapes across the curriculum.

Students need to see and touch things in order to understand concepts, said Fly, who is an environmental psychologist. “Two major areas in childhood development are imagination and manipulation. Nature is infinitely imaginative and manipulative. We’ve seen a drop in creativity and innovation in this country, and it’s partly attributable to not being outside.”

Humans have spent most of our history in nature, he said. “We adapted to it, so it’s only natural that’s what we should be exposed to, that sense of wonder.”

“Too many kids are too plugged in now,” Unger said. “They’re not getting outside, playing in the dirt and streams. As a result, we’re losing the concept of ecological literacy, our connection with the land. Bluebirds, forests and streams can’t be appreciated or understood without experiencing and seeing them.”

More fun outside

“I love seeing animals and learning about them,” said fourth-grader Lauren Turner. “Not to mention, nature makes me feel relaxed and rested.”

Turner, who writes every Wednesday in the outdoor classroom, also feels that she works best in nature. “I write better stories, especially about nature, out here.”

“It’s just more fun than being in the classroom,” said fourth-grader Ethan Miller. “We get to see animals instead of four walls. Plus, today is a whole day about science — birds, bones, rocks, trees and water creatures. That’s awesome.”

By Matthew Stewart-The Daily Times