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Blessed Sacrament Students Make Outdoors Their Classroom

Nov 06, 2015 10:16AM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

Sandy - Seventh and eighth graders at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School left their school building behind when they traveled to Wyoming Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 to step outside and make nature their classroom.

Located at Grand Teton National Park, Teton Science School has been teaching about the natural world and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 1967. It is the third time Blessed Sacrament students have attended a four-day class session at the school.

“Only five of our students had been to the Tetons before,” said Jeanne Lindmar, seventh- and eighth-grade science and physical education teacher. “For some of our students, it was the first time they had been to a national park, and it’s such a unique learning experience where our students learn leadership skills and become stewards who are responsible for the environment.”

Lindmar said students learned how the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was formed 48 million years ago, and how the Teton mountain range was formed from glaciers. Students recorded notes about how Lodgepole pinecones disperse after a wildfire, and how several plants share the same root system, such as sagebrush or aspens. As they hiked on four-mile trails or sat in the fields to observe, the students saw deer, pronghorn, a fox, a bald eagle, a hawk, a black bear and elk — as well as heard them bugling. 

They learned about constellations, animal tracking, micro-organisms, pH balance, water pollution and fire and ecology, and kept sketches and notes in their field journals, she said.

“It was a great lesson for them in cross curriculum, tying earth science and geology into other disciplines. Students sketched how the Teton moraine was formed and animals they saw. We saw a skeleton of an elk and they wrote how they thought they elk died. They learned about John Audubon and how he painted birds. They learned that many scientists and naturalists contributed in writing, photography, painting and art and then, students even wrote their own poetry,” she said.

Lindmar said she plans to have students continue learning from this experience as they gaze on the Wasatch mountains, to learn how they are formed, or in writing assignments such as “Have you ever” and fill-in-the-blank with statements such as “hear elk bugling,” “seen a shooting star at the Tetons” or “made a new friends while hiking a trail.”

When Blessed Sacrament teachers selected sessions for the students to learn, they also chose to include teamwork exercises, such as a low ropes course.

“They had to communicate, problem-solve and be a team. We also did an activity where students pretended to cross hot lava and had to get across without stepping on the ground and could only use non-verbal communication. It challenged them to work together,” she said. 

This, and being free of any technology devices, allowed students to better appreciate and engage in the understanding of the Tetons’ geological mysteries, she said.

“It brought it more to life than searching on a device for an answer. They took field notes, wrote journal entries of what they did, observed and learned, used the scientific method and sketched their findings and were totally focused in nature. They bonded and deepened their friendships. In 27 years of teaching, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. To see their faces and the enlightenment and joy from learning and being part of a team that takes care of each other is truly a blessing,” Lindmar said. 

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