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June 15, 2014

Brookwood students work in wetlands

Brookwood Elementary students love active learning.

Because the school is so close to Lakeshore Park, that allows the students to have the opportunity for rich place-based scientific experiences and the integration of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into all areas of the curriculum, giving students hands-on experiences that make learning more meaningful.

Celeste Martin, principal at Brookwood, invited Dalton Middle seventh-grade science teacher Chris Manis, who also teaches part time at Dalton State College, to work with Brookwood teachers and students on hands-on learning in science using the resources available at Lakeshore Park.

“The best professional development that has lasting impacts on student learning for us are those experiences that organically bubble, are directly related to specific needs and interests of our teachers, and provided by other teachers whose expertise we value,” said Martin. “This was exactly what happened when Chris Manis was willing to devote time with our interested teachers about how to create a meaningful science experience at Lakeshore.”

“Our fourth-grade team began working with Chris this fall to learn how to set up our Living Observation lab,” said fourth-grade Brookwood teacher Annette Rojas. “This blossomed into working with the turtles at Lakeshore.”

Manis said he spoke with a group of teachers at Brookwood to get the project going and to see which teachers wanted to be involved and how much time they wanted to put into the project.

“The teachers were excited about getting involved,” Manis said. “Some were really enthusiastic.”

And so the partnership began.

Manis said the students researched the wetlands at Lakeshore Park, but they are also helping find ways to improve the area.

“They are partners to help rehab and return it to a state of normalcy,” said Manis of the wetlands.

The students also set traps for turtles and looked for identifying information about them.

“At Dalton State, they would have to identify the species, sex, measurements, let it go, and then figure out population size,” Manis said, “but these kids are identifying the species, and anything else is icing on the cake.”

“We set and retrieved the traps 7-8 times each. A total 14-16 trips,” said Rojas.

Manis said while he was helping the students to catch the turtles and rehab the wetlands, everyone was also having fun.

“You can’t underestimate the fun,” he said. “It’s fun for me to help them when they’re as interested as they are. It’s a win-win.”

Manis said it’s also a big deal that kids this age are as interested and involved with work of this kind and style.

“We believe that the students thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They fought to get in the water and participate,” Rojas said. “They have learned far more than just about the turtles; they have learned how to care for the environment, and also how the wetlands benefit our area. We believe that this has expanded our students’ inquiry and opened their eyes beyond the four walls of our classrooms.”

“We knew the turtle project was something that we wanted our kids to be able to participate in,” added Martin, “not only for the engaging cool factor, but also because young students get to do real science research in the field. School is too often an artificial environment. It’s extraordinary on several levels — we partner with the college and our students actually add to the college’s data; we provide an experience with elementary-middle school continuity; and we expand our learning organization all at the same time.”

“The teachers did a lot of hard work. They could’ve gotten overwhelmed by the work,” said Manis. “I’m proud of them.”

And Martin says she’s proud that Brookwood was able to tap into someone like Manis as a resource.

“Chris Manis is a special teacher who knows what’s best for students and is willing to step out and provide more than he has to,” she said. “When teachers are willing to give more than is required, then the profession is not merely a job, it’s a calling. For him, it’s evident it’s a calling, and that’s very lucky for our teachers and students and all the students at Dalton Middle fortunate enough to have him.”


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