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Take Madison Cl. teachers, add EKU biology professors, grant and result is outdoor classroom for students "to fall in love with science"

Richmond Register, May 21, 2013

Learning under the sun
Students try out their new outdoor classroom
By Crystal Wylie

RICHMOND — Students in Stephen Rupard’s fourth-grade class said they can remember when the wetland full of green frogs, dragonfly larvae and tadpoles was just a dip in the gently rolling hills behind their school.

On Monday, the Glenn Marshall Elementary students finally had a chance to put their “outdoor classroom” to use.

B. Michael Caudill students will explore the outdoor classroom today.

In April 2012, students from both schools got their hands dirty helping with the construction of their own wetland. They raked soil, cleared rocks and laid a PVC liner, which helps retain water and keep the wetland wet.

The project was a collaboration between the schools’ science teachers and Eastern Kentucky University biology professors who were awarded an $8,600 Bluegrass PRIDE grant to build the outdoor classroom.

Fourth-grade science teacher Christy Johnson said she wanted her students to “fall in love with science” by getting outside and immersing themselves in it.

“This will be a place where teachers can bring their classes to do water quality testing, count birds and study plants and organisms,” Johnson said when the project broke ground.

Now more than a year later, students are doing just that.

The three acres of school property are just a few minute walk from the schools, over the hill from a tributary of Otter Creek.

On Monday, EKU biology professor Dr. Stephen Richter waded knee-deep to catch water life and insects students may find in the wetland.

He asked students to take a moment and watch for movements in the water. He said sometimes the ripples are made by male green frogs, which are very territorial.

Often, the frogs will “talk” to each other, he said. “And sometimes they even wrestle.”

If students were to come out in the middle of the night, they might see bats eating insects, Richter said.

In 30 years, the wetland will look completely different, he told students. “Look at what has happened in just a year.”   

EKU biology graduate student Jennifer Strong showcased an assortment of snakes.

Students were permitted to touch a hognose snake, a native species that has an upturned snout
(like a hog) and “plays dead” by exposing its stomach when it feels threatened.  

“Kids are usually surprised about how approachable snakes are,” Strong said. Although she advised students to never pick up a snake if they encounter one, she reminded them that snakes are more afraid of humans than they think.

EKU biologist Dr. David Brown talked about the types of birds students may see in the outdoor classroom and Johnson took groups of students to the stream to test for pH levels, dissolved oxygen, temperature, ammonia and nitrogen levels in the stream to determine quality. 

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