by Mike Knaak
Just outside the back door of Riverview Intermediate School, students and teachers can roam through 60 acres of woods and prairies in the recently designated school forest. Teachers learned how they can tie that unique natural resource to curriculum during a professional development day led by educators from the Jeffers Foundation on Oct. 14.
Riverview serves students in third through fifth grades. During the Jeffers-led session, discussions and field exercises helped teachers come up with strategies for teachers to use in the classroom for all subjects, not just the sciences, Principal Zachery Dingmann said.
“All disciplines can happen outside,” he said.
In one exercise, facilitator David Grack passed out paint-sample cards and asked the assembled teachers to find objects that matched. In late fall, brown, yellow and orange objects were everywhere, but searchers needed to look more closely at their surroundings to find blues.
After their quick search, Grack gathered the crew and asked what they found and how the exercise could work for students. Ideas included asking students to write about what they found to expand their vocabulary and coming up with names for the colors (to replace names supplied by the paint company).
So students can record their outdoor experiences, the foundation supplied enough journals for each of the school’s 900 students.
The outdoor classroom west of the school was designated a School Forest by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. There are more than 135 designated School Forests in Minnesota. They range from less than one acre to 300 acres, for a total of more than 8,000 acres. The School Forest program was established by law in 1949.
The designated school-forest land is part of the original property purchased in 1968 for the district’s first high school.