A Walk in the Woods at the Scarsdale Middle School
- Category: Health
- Published: Thursday, 14 July 2022 08:34
- Joanne Wallenstein
A new outdoor classroom and nature trail inspired by Scarsdale Middle School Teachers has become an integral part of the SMS learning experience.
Sixth Grade Science teacher Ben Turner explained how an unused stretch of woods along Mamaroneck Avenue and Catherine Road was reimagined as the setting for multi-discliplinary learning.
Turner said, “During the 2020-21 school year, I designed an Authentic Learning Unit focused on Ecology, which tasked my students with designing a nature trail in the unused, wooded lot adjacent to the tennis courts on the grounds of the middle school. In addition to planning a potential pathway through the area, they were also charged with creating augmented reality (AR) signs, which would highlight ecological concepts connected with local flora and fauna. In the spring of 2021, my students submitted their proposals and signs as an open-ended, summative assessment. The augmented reality platform that they used to create the signs is called ZapWorks. (If you intend to scan any of the signs posted along the trail, download the app Zappar to unlock the digital content.)”
Turner continued, “Behind the scenes that same spring, I began asking around about the status of the would-be trail area. It turned out that other members of the Science Department as well as the Physical Education Department had also been trying to gain momentum in utilizing the land for various educational purposes. In the spirit of collaboration, several of us approached Principal Meghan Troy for permission to propose some summer professional development days in order to get the proverbial ball rolling. As always, she was incredibly supportive, asking what she could do to help bring our vision to fruition. “
Building the Trail
Once approved, the trail had to be built. Turner says, “For two days during the summer of 2021 Bob Keith and Kevin Roemer (Physical Education) as well as Jessica Lincoln, Travis Richards, and myself (Science) worked with the district facilities/grounds crew to create what is now called the "inner loop" of the SMS Nature Trail. Using a chain saw and a backhoe, an elliptical path was rototilled near the center of the lot and many, many dump trucks' worth of wood chips were laid down. An outdoor classroom area was added to one "corner" of the trail as well. My students' AR signs were placed around the periphery of the loop and a welcome sign was installed at the trail entrance. The sign was created by one of my students using her iPad.”
The 2020-21 School Year
Turner says, “Over the course of the 2021-22 school year, the SMA Nature Trail was visited frequently. Scarsdale Teachers Institute classes and department meetings were held in the outdoor classroom area. Many teachers took their classes to the trail for some al fresco reading sessions. There were several projects inspired by the trail.
Alex Fung's music classes worked on natural soundscapes.
Jessie Fass brought her students to the trail to research organic textures for a project focused on artist Yayoi Kasuma.
Michelle Gould held mindfulness and meditation classes.
Meghan Lahey worked with her students on Earth Day Haikus using found materials.
The Cooper 6 team created QR codes which linked to videos of them suggesting ways of "Finding Balance" while walking the trail.
During our school-wide Wellness Wednesday back in March, students created a Painted Rock Garden.
The trail was in so much demand that technology guru Michael Pincus worked with Turner to create a self-sustaining Google reservation calendar in order to manage the trail's use.
In the spring of 2022, Turner’s students again created ecology-themed and locally relevant AR signs for the trail. Around that time, the original team responsible for the inception of the trail got together to brainstorm what was next in its development. The Physical Education department designed a mountain biking unit and are eager to install some trails in order to implement it during the 2022-23 school year. Just this past Monday, the team congregated in the "inner loop" and created the new "outer loop", consisting of half a dozen or so biking trails. These paths were created using string trimmers, rakes, hedge clippers, and shovels. They lined them with logs and branches left in situ and cleaned up several bags' worth of litter that had accumulated over many years.
Moving into the 2022-23 school year there are even more exciting projects planned for the SMS Nature Trail. For example, the Cooper 6 team intends to install a wildflower garden along the front entrance as part of their "Growing Kindness" theme for the year. Also, the Library Media Specialist, Shana Frazin, and Technology Education teacher, Caroline Quentin, are working on signage for a Story Walk exhibit.
During this quiet time of the year, you can experience the nature trail. Access it from Catherine Road and wander inside. Scan the QR codes on your phone. You’ll be surprised at all you will find and learn. Watch a video about the trail here.