Brian Cushing, a 3rd grade teacher at Molly Ockett School in MSAD 72 was looking to do something different with his students this past fall after a year of working indoors through the pandemic.
Inspired by a “Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour” he took in the summer of 2021 at the Maine Outdoor Center on Millinocket Lake near Mt. Katahdin, Cushing created a lesson for his 3rd graders that gave them the opportunity to study Maine forests.
“Our field experiences [on the Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour] were what inspired me most to have my students get outside and learn about forestry,” said Cushing. “Our teacher field experiences took us from harvesting and processing the harvest to retail operations.”
In a 10-session study that integrated reading, writing, technology, science, and geography components, Cushing collaborated with Tin Mountain Conservation to create something really special for this students. He worked with Tin Mountain to co-teach lessons on tree identification, internal structure/components of trees and how to tell how old a tree is when cut down by counting rings on tree cookies.
Cushing decided to use their local school site in Fryeburg, which is located on several acres of mixed woods on one side, for a place to set up their outdoor classroom.
“Students enjoyed having an outdoor classroom,” said Cushing. “Being indoors so much of the day during this pandemic can be monotonous, and even though protocols are in place for outdoor classrooms, it was a change, the air was fresh, and they were learning about a new topic.”
In addition to learning about tree science, the students also studied animal habitat, and what mammals live in the Maine woods. They kept science journals for their weekly lessons, the majority of which were outside at their school site. They also worked in teams of two or three and used their laptops to research selected Maine mammals such as black bear, moose, snowshoe hare, flying squirrels, and bobcat, and then created visuals to present their findings to their classmates, as experts on their chosen mammal.
“They were so enthusiastic to research and write about their mammal, and then to present to the class,” said Cushing. “This was the first time any of them had been able to do any kind of team work since the pandemic hit.”
As part of the collaboration with Tin Mountain, students also had the opportunity to assemble a Maine moose skeleton in class, as part of a traveling museum that came to their classroom. Students also got see a Maine black bear skin, a taxidermied pileated woodpecker, and a saw-whet owl.
“The best part for me was seeing how integration really makes sense to students,” Cushing reflected.