Students in Anne Arundel County Public Schools are still learning about the world around them for about an hour a week, despite remote schooling this fall, Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Coordinator Melanie Parker said.
The team at Arlington Echo Outdoor Environmental Education Center has been focused on providing resources teachers can use as well as suggestions for outdoor activities kids can do in their own neighborhoods.
“I think most people know that the outdoors can bring peace and tranquility to folks, as well as a respite from where we are,” Parker said.
And if students don’t have a guardian to go outdoors with, there are ways to observe natural phenomena like rain, clouds, creatures and plants from inside. Of course it’s not the same as exploring the 24-acre center, Parker said.
Students can investigate stormwater runoff by pouring a glass of water on the ground and seeing how it runs.
While trips to the center are canceled, environment educators have been dropping into virtual classrooms to provide online versions of lessons, supporting the environment lessons that are already part of the curriculum.
Parker said one exercise at Arlington Echo asks students to observe the world around them and note what they sense. Students can also list the observed sights, smells and sounds of the environment around them while at home.
Each year first graders have a chance to monitor and measure monarch butterflies as they metamorphosize from caterpillars in classrooms. While there are no in-person classrooms this fall, teachers picked up about 400 bugs from Arlington Echo this week, which they will raise at home so students can still see the change over time, even if through a computer screen.
Parker said the system also typically raises between 70 and 100 baby terrapins in various classrooms. This year instead they will only raise two as a system in a tank at Arlington Echo. They will livestream the tiny swimmers for students to follow along with.
Teachers from Arlington Echo have been dropping into classes virtually to teach units about trees, the Chesapeake watershed, how to prevent drowning and more.
For that last unit, Parker said students have been practicing floating on mattresses on the floor, and are learning skills like how to throw a rope to help someone in the water.
“It’s definitely not the same as being in the water,” she said. “Students still learn how to wear a (personal floatation device) and ways they can survive their own situation.”
Over the summer Parker’s department also produced more than 20 instructional videos encouraging students to get outside. Subjects include identifying sounds from your porch, hydrology and beavers, gardening in buckets and making bird feeders.
Parker said they hope to continue growing that catalog of content.
While nothing official has been planned around returning to classes in person, educators are discussing how to use all parts of the schoolyard, including more open-air outdoor classrooms, Parker said.
Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education Executive Director Laura Collard said they are encouraging schools to create more outdoor learning opportunities like rain or pollinator gardens on campus to help provide equal access to natural resources for students.