Ypsi-Arbor Forest Project

Much of our work, as of late, has been focused on the Ypsi-Arbor Student Forest Project. The work is a collaboration with We Are The Forest, a local non-profit that focuses on education and reforestation and students from Ypsilanti New Tech High School.

The project takes a bioregional approach to understanding the Ypsi-Arbor Corridor and focuses on the shared green spaces and watershed. One goal of the project is to create new connections with and tell new stories about the Ypsi-Arbor Corridor. They will be documenting these stories and sharing them with the broader community through interactive story maps. The other goal is to complete two green infrastructure projects on their respective campuses using trees and the ecosystem services they provide to improve air and water quality as well as provide energy savings.

Together we will learn more about the importance of trees and forests to ecosystems, study the history of our local area, and plant trees on our respective campuses.

Our class began the project by traveling to Ypsilanti New Tech High School where we learned more about some of the challenges the school faces regarding flooding on campus and the different trees they have planted so far to improve storm water management and provide energy savings to the school.

After the presentations and a walking tour of part of the grounds, we were invited to play Capture the Flag in the beautiful forest on their property.

We also invited the students to join us on our campus to share the work we’ve been doing. Part of this work included designing a game that highlighted the different relationships in a healthy forestial ecosystem. Working through the design process (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Play/Test) we defined the elements of our game and games in general. After identifying key ideas, goals, core mechanics and materials, we play/tested, revising based on our experiences.

The current version of the game, Ecosystem Infection (working title) pits native and invasive trees against each other as they work with mycelium to accumulate nutrients and establish themselves in their respective zones.

After sharing some of the key ideas with the students from Ypsilanti New Tech High School, we invited them to play the game. While some played, others helped us mark invasive species that we will clear before planting more native trees at the end of the project.

Later in the week, we joined our Ypsilanti New Tech friends, as well as Nate Ayers (We Are the Forest), Jason Hogans, and local historian Matt Siegfried for a “Surthrival Course” at County Farm Park.  We began with an introduction by Matt on the history of County Farm Park and Washtenaw Avenue, how the land has been used over time and how the changes reflected changes in societal values.

Nate showed us how to use common plastic bags that can, unfortunately, be found all over to build a solar water still to collect water in case of emergency. Taking advantage of the condensation that happens overnight, we learned how to set up the bag to collect this water and save it for later use (after boiling.)

Jason Hogans, who specializes in primitive survival techniques and is a musician shared some of his history and the ways that he uses nature as both an influence and actual samples in his music. He then helped us build shelters using large and small branches as well as leaves and bark that would be useful should we find ourselves in the woods overnight.

After shelter building, we spent time with Jason learning how to build fires using common plants and other materials that could be found in the area.

We capped it off with hot dogs (both beef and vegetarian) and fresh smoothies with mint found in the area.

As the day drew to a close, we left with new perspectives on the ways we can interact with the natural spaces that surround us.

OOEL . Ann Arbor Water Treatment and Barton Dam . River Crossing Riddle

This week, the students continued their work in the Out of Eden Learn Project. One group is focusing on connecting their own lives to the past. Part of this work included reading a dispatch from Paul Salopek titled The Natural History of Kindness which addresses some of the social theories about how and why ‘kindness’ evolved. Reflecting on this and other aspects of our shared human history can help us understand or think differently about our lives. The next part of their work will involve them looking to specific ways their lives are connected to our shared human past.

The other Out of Eden Learn group will be focusing on documenting an aspect of their everyday lives and sharing it with their walking party. When viewed from the perspective of others, the small moments we take for granted can take on a new life.

We also visited the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant and Barton Dam (Hydroelectric) continuing our exploration of water and electricity and the relationship between the two.

In math, we continued our work in Singapore math including rounding, factors, multiples and double digit multiplication among other topics. We also managed to find a few different ways to safely transport the wildebeests and lions across the river to safety, solving the logic puzzle from last week.

Out of Eden Learn . Thinking about Thinking . Morning Meeting . Logic Puzzles

This week both first years and second years continued their respective work with the Out of Eden Learn Project. The first years dug deeper into the way Paul Salopek has captured glimpses into the moments of the lives of those he has encountered along his journey. Together we looked at his dispatch from the Prophet’s Mosque in Saudia Arabia which occurred during the month of Ramadan. We shared what we noticed, appreciated and wondered about or connected with.

Some struggled with how to approach the work at first which led to some exploration of metacognition (ways to think about our own thinking.) One approach to building understanding that we use in the class is based on the work of Derek Cabrera and involves the following:

Distinctions, Systems, Relationships and Perspectives

When we use these lenses to think about a problem, concept or story, we are able to find different concrete ways to frame our thinking and make connections within and across our areas of study.
The class presented during our Friday Morning Meeting, sharing their work with aquaponics, Out of Eden Learn, and the book we just finished reading as a class, A Wild Ride through the Night.
In math, some of the students continued their work with long division, area/perimeter and fractions while others worked on factors and multiples. We also worked individually and in groups on solving a logic puzzle that involved making sure both lions and wildebeests crossed a river to escape a forest fire that destroyed their home. The key to making it across was transporting the animals in such a way so as that there were never more lions than wildebeests on land or the raft. Under those circumstances, the lions would eat the wildebeests.
What made the work so interesting wasn’t just the different solutions that the students proposed. It was also their approaches. Some worked the puzzle out in their heads. Others sketched it out while still, others made small paper representations so they could act out their strategies and find the most successful one. It was a great reminder of the different ways we, as learners, make sense of the world.

Expert Eyes . Grandfriends’ Day . County Farm Park – Ecosystem Restoration . Aquaponics . Odyssey . Computer Programming

Our Expert Eyes walks continued with one led by Ed Feng, with a focus on mathematics around our grounds. He shared with us how he develops algorithms to rank the strength of college football teams and why the home team receives +3 points just for playing at home (Hint: It’s the referees.) After noticing the students practicing archery, Ed shared his understanding of statistics and helped us think about the odds of shooting our arrows inside and outside of the target under certain conditions.

We also welcomed families and friends into the school for Grandfriends’ Day. After gathering in the atrium for a performance from the choir, we set to work on a murder mystery activity created by Clara, a 4th-grader in our class. After learning about the various suspects, we had to carefully eliminate some based on clues she gave us and identify the guilty party.

Working together, grandfriends and students created maps that represented the neighborhoods that the grandfriends grew up in. The grandfriends then shared stories about their childhoods with the maps as visual aids. We were fortunate to be able to share their stories and learn more about their lives when they were younger.

We spent some time across the street with County Farm Park Naturalist, Shawn Severance where we helped clear out some invasive species, including honeysuckle and buckthorn. Our work there is part of an ongoing ecosystem restoration project to encourage more native plant growth in the park.

Our Odyssey collaboration with Imogen continued with homeroom time being devoted to both blocking and scriptwriting for the upcoming performance.

In math, in addition to their work in Singapore Math, students were introduced to some computer programming activities where they had to use blocks or lines of code to complete different challenges.

Nature’s Recyclers . Expert Eyes . Spelling . Pascal’s Triangle

This week, we welcomed MacKenzie from The Ecology Center into our class for Nature’s Recyclers, a workshop focused on understanding waste streams in our city and the effect composting has on the overall system. With magnifying glasses in hand, we dug through a sample of soil to find some of the invertebrates involved in the process, including worms, pillbugs, and slugs. Moving forward, we will be restarting our compost program, and using our kitchen waste and leaves to improve our soil.

Our Expert Eyes walks continued as we welcomed Theresa Angelini from Angelini and Associates to the class. She, along with others in her firm, was responsible for many of the renovations that transformed our building into the school it is today. Together we examined blueprints of the school in various stages of its evolution and talked about some of the things that the firm considered including colors, angles of walls, plumbing, and carpet. How people move through and feel in the space were themes that continued throughout the conversation.
Hearing how Theresa thought about and experienced the space helped reveal some of the hidden details that shape our own experience. One thing to notice next time you enter the building is the placement of the wall you see upon entering. Rather than being perpendicular to the door, it is placed at an angle, directing you toward Karen’s office.
Shawn Severance, from County Farm Park, also took us on a walk through our grounds with a focus on Ecosystem Restoration. She began with a story, “Sky Woman Falling,” from Braiding Sweetgrass about the creation of the world and then she shared some of her experiences growing up with nature. We then walked around our playground, taking notice of the non-native species, evidence of wildlife (crow’s nests and woodchuck burrows) and chokecherry.
Taking a historical view of the property, Shawn shared photos of the property over time where we noted changes in the landscape as well as the size and flow of the creek nearby. Moving forward, we will continue these explorations and begin some work at County Farm Park, with Shawn, helping with shrubs in the nearby floodplain.
In spelling, we spent some time looking at which suffixes may force a change in the join. Right now, the students have hypothesized that suffixes that begin with a vowel will force a change at the join if the base ends in a “silent e.” We will test that further in the coming weeks.

In math, we worked on our Singapore books and played with patterns including Fibonacci’s Sequence and Pascal’s Triangle, where the students worked individually and with partners to uncover patterns in the triangle.

Green Thumbs – Learning about Companion Planting

In Green Thumbs, we continued our focus on networks in the garden, specifically companion planting where plants work together as a community. Using a Food Forest card game deck, students began playing various games, matching cards together based on the various inputs and outputs of each plant or aspect of the garden.

Over the course of the year, we will add customized cards based on our location. This is a great way for students to build an understanding of the relationships amongst plants, pollinators, pests and beneficial insects and will inform their planning when we design our garden spaces.

Making Sense of English Spelling

This week, we also began a systematic exploration of the English spelling system. English spelling is often categorized as being random or filled with confusing rules and exceptions. When English spelling is understood as indicating the history, structure, and meaning of the word, the spelling begins to make far more sense.
We looked at the word “sign” and asked where the “g” came from since we clearly don’t hear it. Using a historical lens, we found its Latin root signare. We then began making connections between sign, signal, design, and signature based on their meaning and structure.

The Odyssey . Science and Myth

Part of our work with The Odyssey this week focused on the encounter with Circe where Odysseus’s men found themselves turned into pigs after a lavish feast. Thanks to a gift from Hermes, Odysseus was able to remain unaffected by her treachery, free his men and gain an ally in Circe.

When considering the ways in which myths can be considered true, it’s interesting to note the way stories or fantasy can be woven with fact. The video below shows what some believe to be botanical explanations for both Circe’s power to turn the men into pigs and the source of Odysseus’s protection.

Sharing at the SEMIS Coalition Community Forum

This week we traveled to Eastern Michigan University to present at the SEMIS Coalition Community Forum, an annual celebration where students share their place-based education experiences with attendees across generations.

Our first session focused on our collaboration with We Are The Forest, a local non-profit that focuses on biomimicry and reforestation education. This work included using iTree software to calculate the monetary value of the ecosystem services that trees on our campus provide. Learning to collect and share this data enables students to make the case for the protection and expansion of forests from an economic standpoint. They also shared information about the ecosystems services trees provide and the functions of the various trees in the native tree library they planted on campus.

Our second session focused on the work students have done around the Flint Water Crisis and Dioxane Plume in Ann Arbor, two issues impacting local community members.

When investigating the Flint Water Crisis, students researched the history of the issue using the power of why to deepen their questions, beginning with lead in the water and ending with questions about the effects of automation and globalization on manufacturing communities. The students also collaborated with the Kindergarten class to hold a water drive for a school in Flint. When visiting the school, our class also interviewed the students there, wanting to know their stories from their perspective. Finally, we began discussing possible solutions including decentralized water systems as discussed by Matt Grocoff and U of M’s BlueLAB as well as Nate Ayers and Jesse Tack of Flint Water Solutions. The possibility of mycoremediation was also brought up as fungi have been shown to remediate soils contaminated with lead and bacteria in streams.

Finally, we began discussing possible solutions including decentralized water systems as discussed by Matt Grocoff and U of M’s BlueLAB as well as Nate Ayers and Jesse Tack of Flint Water Solutions. The possibility of mycoremediation was also brought up as fungi have been shown to remediate soils contaminated with lead and bacteria in streams. Students also performed experiments with Lisa Johnson exploring corrosion.

Our investigation of the Dioxane Plume in Ann Arbor began with a similar approach. After gathering the basic facts, we traveled to Danny’s house which is located within the area affected by the plume. There we met Roger Rayle, co-founder and chairman of Scio Residents for Safe Water, a watchdog group that has monitored the spread of the plume and pressured government officials to take action. Roger shared several maps he had made on Google Earth showing the spread of the plume over time and talked about the ways it has and will continue to affect residents that get their water from wells as well as those on city water, as the plume makes its way towards Barton Pond, which provides 85% of the city’s drinking water.

As for solutions, we discussed how a decentralized water system would benefit Ann Arbor and are constructing a rain barrel with the hopes of investigating the potability of rainwater collected onsite. We also tested Carbon filtration with Lisa Johnson and will be experimenting with solar stills in the coming weeks.

Finally, after Clara sent me a report claiming dioxane-contaminated groundwater may be surfacing in West Park, we discussed phytoremediation (using plants to decontaminate pollutants) and a study that showed hybrid poplar trees being used in phytoremediation of dioxane. We will be contacting city officials and sending the information along with the hopes that they will investigate and take action.

Many of the students were nervous about presenting but walked away feeling more confident and empowered by the responses. It was so great to see them engaged with coalition members of all ages and excited to return next year to share their efforts.

What Are Trees Worth?

We have been spending time preparing for the SEMIS Coalition Community Forum at Eastern Michigan University where we will be sharing some of the work we have been doing. Part of this work includes our collaboration with We Are The Forest, a local organization devoted to ecosystem education and reforestation. In addition to planting a native tree library on the campus, the students have been using a website called i-Tree to assess the value of the trees on campus in terms of ecosystem services they provide.

While many of us understand the value of trees and the benefits they provide, that information isn’t usually quantified and framed in terms of savings in energy cost, stormwater management, filtration of pollutants and carbon sequestration. Using the software enabled the students to calculate the value of trees on our campus in terms of the ecosystem services they provide.


SK – 3rd / 4th Grade

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