Red Lake students learn about the forest

Local school students participated in a forest habitat and sustainability program co-operatively designed and taught by the Red Lake Heritage Centre and the Ministry of Natural Resources in Red Lake District.
Fifty-five Grade 4 students from the Golden Learning Centre and Red Lake-Madsen Public School were taught about forest habitat while 33 Grade 7 students, either home-schooled or from the Golden Learning Centre, were taught about forest sustainability.
The MNR and RLHC designed the program in 2004 and have been teaching it for the last two years. The most recent classes took place Sept. 25 and 27.
In the morning, MNR staff taught the Grade 4 classes the concepts of habitat, predator/prey relationships, and food chains using local examples. They used the story “Wolf Island,” which showed what happened when a vital part of the food chain was removed.
Next the students were split into two groups. One group went on a nature walk on the local Millennium Trail, where they learned where certain animals live, why that area suits their needs, how to identify animals by their tracks, and what predators to watch out for.
The other group played games that reinforced the concepts of habitat survival, predator/prey relations, and how animals adapt to the environment to meet their needs.
“The Grade 4 classes really enjoyed the teaching of habitat out on their hike,” said Caroline Upward, education co-ordinator for the RLHC. “Exploring the forest, looking for signs of creatures, especially under the log, really caught their attention.
“One teacher remarked that her current school program really tied in with this.”
In the afternoon, the RLHC’s education co-ordinators used the watercolour illustrated book “Owl Moon” to reinforce the morning’s talk on habitat and nature.
They also gave the students an art lesson on how the use of colour conveys mood in a painting. The students then had an opportunity to paint their own pictures.
“The activities were excellent and the kids enjoyed the whole day,” said Adele Briscoe, at Grade 4 teacher at the Golden Learning Centre.
“Even though kids in this area grow up surrounded by forest, lakes, and wildlife, most know very little about the species and ecosystem they live in,” noted Baleigh McWade, another education co-ordinator at the RLHC.
“Programs like this one, especially when partnered with knowledge and experience of the MNR staff, offer the opportunity for kids to understand and appreciate the natural world around them.
“Fostering interest and understanding now is, I think, a responsibility we, the scientific community, have to younger generations,” McWade stressed.
The MNR began the morning program for the Grade 7 classes with an interactive presentation about the concept of sustainability with solutions for sustaining the forest for future generations.
The students went on a nature walk, where they learned to identify six species of trees in the boreal forest, including Paper Birch, Trembling Aspen, White Spruce, Black Spruce, Jack Pine, and Balsam Fir.
The students then were divided into four small groups and rotated through stations, where they learned how to identify trees, what forest products most families use, and how to measure the diameter of a tree using a diameter tape, the age of a tree using an increment borer and by counting tree rings, and the height of a tree using a Haga altimeter and a clinometer.
“It is very important that student learn about the trees in the area where they live and the principles used to determine sustainable use of the forest,” said Dave New, Red Lake North area forester.
In the afternoon, the RLHC showed the students a 25-minute video on “Managing Woodland Caribou,” followed by a discussion.
Afterwards, the students were presented with a scenario regarding forest management, where they took the positions of various stakeholders (a park, forest company, angler and hunter club, and environmental organization) and tried to come up with a plan that met the needs of all the stakeholders.
The class voted on the best solution.
“Having an all-day program was good and the kids enjoyed it,” said Leianne Shearer, a local home school teacher. “The nature walks and activities were educational and fun for the students.”
“I see tremendous value in the MNR working with a partner like the Red Lake Heritage Centre and providing education programs, especially those that get local youth out into nature and excited about the forest,” said Angie McLellan, MNR Red Lake District project planner.
“If we can invoke enough passion in these students, then maybe, just maybe they will want to become our future generation of foresters. How exciting would that be?” she enthused.