An assembly of Chester Elementary School kindergartners through sixth-graders and their teachers met inside the school’s gymnasium April 30, to show their appreciation for the group of women who had created quilted science flags for each grade level.
The quilting community provided the science flags to represent the different class subjects for the Outdoor Core curriculum. The PUSD educational strategy uses the outdoors as a provisional classroom, part of California’s Next Generation Science Standards program that’s in the process of rolling out nationwide, explained Rob Wade, outdoor and science education coordinator for the Plumas Unified School District for the past 22 years.
The idea behind the science flags came from Kellie Bainbridge and other teachers, who envisioned them as a future science tradition that will be brought by the students to school-wide meetings and to hang outside their classrooms.
The women who quilted the science flags, which incorporated an icon denoting the subject matter for each grade level, are Adreanna Erickson, kindergarten – The Year of the Garden: Milkweed; Andrea Towle, first grade – The Year of the Insect: Multiple Insects, and also third grade – The Year of the Mammal: Mama Bear and Baby Bear; Barbara Howe, second grade – The Year of the Amphibian and Reptile: Frogs; Christina Thrash, fourth grade – The Year of the Fish: Rainbow Trout; Denise Porter, fifth grade – The Year of the Bird: Great Blue Heron; and Coye Burnett, sixth grade – The Year of the Watershed: Feather River Watershed.
All the quilters received bouquets and the teaching staff’s gratitude for their amazing quilts during the assembly.
Wade, who was also in attendance, cheered on the kids and thanked the teachers for their hard work in establishing the unique set of courses.
“I give a lot of credit to the teachers at Chester Elementary School who first adopted the new program in their outdoor science curriculum. … They were the real trailblazers.”
Chester Elementary is the school pioneering the new NGSS program, which began three years ago with Wade sharing ideas at a series of meetings with teacher Nicholle Crowther to discuss the new science standards and to plan their implementation.
After submitting their plans to the school district, and the staff at Chester Elementary, everyone expressed support, he said, resulting in a pilot program in 2015, which involved gathering resources, books and designing the curriculum.
Once the teaching staff was trained in spring 2017, the Outdoor Core program was finally launched in August of that year.
During the hour-long event in the gymnasium, Wade, in partnership with the Forest Service, handed out a Klean Kanteen metal water bottle to each student, accompanied with a sticker that corresponded to his or her yearly science focus, earned by completing the Outdoor Core challenges.
Wade asked the kids to use the metal canteens instead of plastic bottles as a way to lessen the impact of plastic used in our environment and to limit pollution in our waterways and landfills.
He said they were able to purchase a canteen for every student in the PUSD, which were first being handed out to the students at Chester Elementary.
Afterward, teacher Kellie Bainbridge led “The March” song at the assembly that she wrote for sixth-grade students intended to be sung on weekly hikes in the surrounding meadows and forests.
The Outdoor Core curriculum assigns different topics for each grade level.
Kindergarteners begin with a gardening class on campus, with a focus on field studies that include first graders investigating invertebrates; second graders study amphibians and reptiles; third graders learn about local mammals; fourth graders explore the subject of trout and fisheries; fifth graders study birds; and sixth graders look at nature through the lens of how the watershed is essential to the well-being of the region’s diverse habitats.
Each grade level has its own distinct location of study, from the Olsen Barn property to the Collins Pine Trail to the North Fork of Lake Almanor.
But Wade said that over the course of their multi-year studies, students from each grade level revisit many of the same areas to make it easier for them to comprehend how all the various parts of the ecology tie together and interact, and thus depend on the health of the environment as a whole.
“The idea is that students grow up in Plumas County as mountain kids, so we felt the curriculum should reflect where students live and study,” he said, adding that, “They have a wonderful opportunity to go outdoors to explore the environment that’s right in their own backyard.”
As students enter higher grade levels they have new experiences because they’re looking through a different lens at nature, Wade remarked.
He continued. “… The Outdoor Core curriculum makes the school year that much more exciting and increases interest in their studies.”
Every school district has the opportunity to decide how it’s going to teach the new Next Generation Science Standards, Wade said, “and because of the many partners we already have, like the Feather River Land Trust, we are uniquely positioned to expand the science curriculum beyond just textbooks, that includes students living where the beautiful Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains meet. … It allows for a very unique education.”
He said the partnership with the Feather River Land Trust and its “Learning Landscapes” program has been critical in designating areas of open spaces like the Olsen Barn and Chester Meadows property where students could go for their studies.
Also mentioned by Wade are companies like PG&E, Collins Pine Co. and the Forest Service have also been important partners as well, providing experts like biologists to assist teachers.
Other elementary schools in the district are currently working with the materials provided by Wade and the Chester teaching staff to develop and implement their own Outdoor Core science programs.
Wade said students also apply skills they’ve learned in other subjects when they are on outdoor field trips like reading, writing and math, which include writing in their field journals or nature notebooks.
He said students are encouraged to ask questions. But rather than having their teachers provide the answers, students instead find answers by investigating the world around them — researching the internet, reading books on the subject of study and to use their own observations and critical thinking skills, helping each other out — thereby finding the answers through their own efforts.
“I want the kids to fill their brains and hearts every time they’re on one of their field adventures with the colors and sounds of the outdoors, and the connections they make with nature,” Wade said.