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LINVILLE, North Carolina (December 14, 2021) – With more emphasis on the science curriculum, the fifth year can be a challenging and rewarding time for North Carolina students.
Fortunately, grade five students at Banner Elk Elementary School in Banner Elk, North Carolina are benefiting from the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s Eco Watch program.
The educational outreach program places one of the mountain educators in the classroom and brings the children to the mountain itself for a unique, hands-on educational experience that goes hand in hand with the subjects students are first learning. time.
“The goal is for children to make connections between the material they are taught in the classroom and the hands-on experiences we provide,” said Cassie Petrilla, Education Specialist at Grandfather Mountain.
Eco Watch is currently in its first year of operation, thanks to a generous grant from the High Country Charitable Foundation which helped launch the program early in the school year. The Foundation is dedicated to helping people and animals in need across Avery County and providing opportunities, such as this program, that would not be possible otherwise.
Students benefit from six in-depth interactions with one of the mountain’s expert naturalists. The first half of these interactions focus on weather and weather patterns, instruments for data collection, how to think like a scientist, how to make observations, and how weather patterns affect students and the world around them.
Better yet, the majority of learning takes place outdoors, and the program, which is based on the North Carolina Standard Curriculum, is largely run by the students themselves, as they are encouraged to mobilize their intellect and ask questions. on their surrounding environment.
During one of Petrilla’s first instructional sessions at Banner Elk Elementary, students’ interest in the topic was evident as she performed an experiment to demonstrate the interaction between hot and cold air masses. .
She used two samples of hot and cold water, each marked with red and blue food coloring, separated by a barrier in a small container. As Petrilla removed the barrier, the children leaned over and stared in amazement at the two water samples that remained separate, showing that the cooler blue water was actually denser than the warm red water. Petrilla then explained how these air masses interact with larger weather phenomena, such as stationary fronts and jet streams.
“Weather, like other science materials, can be difficult to conceptualize because you can see the effects, but you can’t really see the process itself,” said Petrilla. “Not all students are textbook or classroom learners. So my goal is to reach all the kids, but especially the more practical ones. Often, real learning only takes place if it is applied or properly conceptualized.
When the students visited Grandfather Mountain for their field trip in December, they had the opportunity to conduct experiments themselves. As part of their visit, they recorded the daily weather reading from the National Weather Service reporting station near the Mile High Swinging Bridge. They will then use this data to make predictions and distinguish between the weather conditions at the top of the mountain and those at the bottom of the mountain at Banner Elk Elementary.
Many students, however, will not be completely unfamiliar with Grandfather Mountain weather data. Through the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), a network of volunteers who collect weather data through the efforts of Citizen Scientists, the students collected their own precipitation readings and entered that data on the CoCoRaHS website. .
The class is supposed to compare their weather data with other schools in the area, but there is no one else participating in the project nearby. Thus, Banner Elk Elementary worked with Grandfather Mountain as a potential partner in the project.
The trip also serves as a time to review material that students have learned throughout the semester. In May, students will return once again and review and apply what they have learned about ecosystems and the interdependence of organisms in an environment.
Petrilla is hoping that one day the Eco Watch program will be expanded and share the same success as the Wild Watch program, which provides similar enrichment to every first grader in Avery County.
“Ideally, I would like Eco Watch to be like Wild Watch, so that every fifth grader in the county has access to it,” she said. “Our work with Banner Elk Elementary this year lays the foundation for this expansion. We will conduct a student learning assessment and obtain feedback from teachers to demonstrate the impact of this hands-on science enrichment program.
While the program may be new, it is already showing signs of having a positive impact with students.
Lea Skeate, who teaches fifth grade at Banner Elk Elementary, said the experience offered by Eco Watch has effectively complemented the lessons and concepts she teaches her students.
“The Eco Watch program engages students and gets them excited about science because they can go outside and do hands-on activities,” Skeate said. “It not only helps students learn science, but also learn to love science. “
The non-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation works to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call 800-468-7325, or visit www.grandfather.com to book a trip.
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