2020 Mt. Ararat Student Research Enriches Understanding of the Preserve

This fall, every Thursday at 9:05 am, high school students spilled out of the school bus, rushed to the Ecology Center to gather equipment, put on boots/waders as needed, and headed to research sites to gather data. With only an hour and a half each week to collect their data, this is no small feat!

Working in seven small groups, Glenn Evans’ Honors Biology students from Mt Ararat High School formulated research questions on a range of topics and collected data for eight weeks. 

Projects included heath ecology, Cathance River water quality, invertebrate diversity in the Cathance River, cattail dieback in the fishless pond, large mammals, and dragon/damsel flies.

In addition to the guidance of their teacher, projects were mentored by local specialists, including Fred Cichocki of Chewonki, Kelly Waddle and Steve Pelletier of Stantec, David Reed, Scott Libby of Battelle, Dave Courtemanch and Molly Payne Wynne of The Nature Conservancy, and Liz Hertz.

Students are analyzing the data and will organize their findings into posters that will be presented on January 28, 2020 at 6:00 pm at the Topsham Public Library. Join us to hear their findings and to support the spirit of science inquiry in the next generation.

Their findings will enrich our understanding of the precious natural resources in our community and will be added to a growing database of biological and environmental information about the Preserve. 

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Preschoolers Revel in Over and Under the Snow

Families trickled down the gravel road at the pace of preschoolers. Which is to say, slowly!  The little ones discovered slick icy patches to wiggle and “skate” on. A few found walking sticks for their upcoming adventure in the woods.

It was a crisp winter morning in December, and CREA was hosting its first guided Storywalk® for Preschoolers. (One learns that when you host an event for families with preschoolers, they tend to arrive a few minutes late.)

Families gathered inside the Ecology Center while waiting for everyone to arrive. Inside, little voices echoed, “Wow!” and “What’s that?” and “Can I touch that?”

Program host Jenny Mueller introduced families to CREA’s amazing collection of native bird and animal specimens at the Ecology Center, then gave them the option of exploring indoors via a quick scavenger hunt.

Patrick, an older sibling, took on the challenge right away. Within a few minutes he had found every item and was helping younger children find things on the list.

Once everyone arrived, the group ‘geared up’ and headed to the StoryWalk®’s first pages at the beginning of the Barnes Leap Trail. Jenny invited families to walk and read the StoryWalk® pages as a group.

Caregivers and parents joined Jenny enthusiastically – taking turns to read pages, make animal sounds, and enjoy the story together. Jenny modeled for caregivers how to reinforce information presented in the story, reminding the littles to look for animal tracks and burrow entrances (i.e. holes) in the snow such as those shown in the story.

The group meandered down Barnes Leap Trail, reading – laughing – and running (well, the littles were running…) to each story easel along the trail. The book Over and Under the Snow taught the group about the secret world of squirrels, snowshoe hares, bears, bullfrogs, and other animals who live safe and warm under the snow in winter.

Midway down the trail, Jenny encouraged everyone to put on their “deer ears,” cupping hands around ears to hear more like our woodland friends. “Can you hear better with deer ears?” she asked? “Yes!” “What can you hear now that you couldn’t before?” “The river!” a four-year-old boy exclaimed, then took off down the trail to find it.

After finishing the book, the group gathered at Barnes Leap to look over the rushing Cathance River, wild from a rain and snow. How many unique ice formations could the littles spot on overhanging rocks?

Jenny led the group back via a different route that provided more views of the Cathance River plus the fun of negotiating roots and rocks on the more rugged Cathance River Trail. The littles were delighted to see the rushing water, ice pancakes, and bright orange jelly fungus.

After an hour out on the trails, the group returned to the Ecology Center, and was welcomed by its warm pellet stove and a hot kettle ready to make cocoa for all. Families stayed for a snack and warm up while guessing what animals CREA pelts came from.

Several snuggled on the couch to read winter-themed, nature-based picture books from the Ecology Center library, and play with animal puppets.

The takeaway from this event is that children love to be outdoors in any season! While they may be shy at first, they quickly revel in the joy of discovery with their peers.

CREA will be hosting these StoryWalks® for preschoolers quarterly, whenever a new book is installed on the storyboards. Look for it on the Events page on the CREA website: https://creamaine.org/events/.

In the meantime, bring your littles to enjoy our winter StoryWalk® book, Over and Under the Snow! Storyboards start just past the Ecology Center at the beginning of the Barnes Leap Trail.

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CREA Summer Camp: 2019 A Summer to Remember!

This article was originally published in CREA’s Fall 2019 newsletter.

When was the last time you found a frog at your feet in the river, built a boat with your new best friend, did a solo-hike, or covered yourself in clay from head to toe? Been a while? If so, it’s time to come to CREA Camp.

This past summer CREA offered 6 weeks of awesome outdoor exploration, STEM adventures, art creations, nature-based science discovery and, most importantly, confidence-building. Adventures were based at CREA’s Ecology Center and Nature Preserve trails. Connecting our campers with nature and fostering future stewards of the environment is our mission and our passion.

110 campers and 15 Counselors-In-Training joined us over the course of the summer. Most came from our own community, but some traveled far to experience CREA. Including Nolan from WA, Alex from NY, and Amelia and Nathan from OH.

Our camp team made all of this magic happen! Zoe Battle joined us prior to starting her freshman year at Macalester College. Zoe was an integral part of implementing our camp science curriculum and creative art lessons. Nick Merrill joined us after completing his freshman year at Bowdoin College. Nick was our fishing guru, nature guide, games-master and an enthusiastic leader!

We are all looking forward to CREA’s 2020 Summer Camps which open for registration this winter. Visit our camp page for more information www.creamaine.org/programs/summercamp or email Jenny Mueller, Camp Director with your camp questions. 

Think Camp!

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CREA’s Outdoor Learning Network

This article was originally published in CREA’s Fall 2019 newsletter.

Let’s imagine you’re an elementary teacher, devoted to your students and looking for ways to enhance your teaching. You recognize that introducing regular doses of hands-on, outdoor learning experiences would benefit both you and your students. You want to explore new ideas, but the demands of your regular school day and associated meetings make that difficult. What to do?

The Outdoor Learning Network, created by CREA Educators Sarah Rodgers and Carey Truebe, could be just what this teacher needs. Sarah and Carey teach nature-based, science curricula to public school students at the Ecology Center. Through their ongoing collaborations with teachers and districts, Sarah and Carey realized that peer-to-peer sharing was invaluable to teachers. 

Many teachers crave time to brainstorm ideas about outdoor teaching and share their experiences. But, busy with day to day challenges, they rarely get the opportunity to discuss new, innovative ideas – especially with teachers outside their school.

To meet this need, in 2018 Sarah and Carey led a free summer workshop for teachers on how to ‘take learning outdoors,’ thanks to generous grant support from Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, Davis Foundation, Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, and Merrymeeting Bay Trust. At the one-day workshop, Sarah and Carey shared outdoor teaching strategies, introduced outdoor activities linked to indoor science, math, and literacy lessons, and modeled the ‘student discovery’ style of teaching.

To create an ongoing forum for peer collaboration around outdoor, place-based teaching, they conceived of the Outdoor Learning Network (OLN) – a place where teachers could talk with other teachers at their grade level, learn about resources for outdoor teaching, and share frustrations, obstacles, and how they have worked within their school to overcome hurdles.

The first OLN meeting took place at CREA’s Ecology Center in June of 2019 with teachers representing almost every elementary school in SAD 75 and the Brunswick School District. The OLN plans to meet quarterly, rotating among different elementary schools. In late October, they met at the Bowdoinham Community School where they toured outdoor spaces used for teaching, and reviewed visual posters that help Forest Kindergartners ‘gear up’ with outerwear and supplies before heading out for a day of learning in the woods. 

At the October meeting, teachers shared rules they’ve created to guide outdoor play, discussed how they proactively address parental concerns, and acknowledged the importance of recognizing genuine challenges faced by students who haven’t ever carried a backpack or experienced unstructured play time outdoors.

The OLN exemplifies the remarkable work our Educators are doing. Not only do they inspire over a thousand public school students every year with their outdoor teaching, but they are working to magnify its impact by spreading the tools (and benefits) of place-based teaching much more broadly across our school districts through peer-to-peer collaboration. We are grateful for their talents and commitment!

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What’s Special about CREA Summer Camp

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2019 newsletter.

Did you know that CREA has been offering summer camp to youth in grades 1 – 8 since 2007?

This summer we’re excited to add new themes to our awesome science and art-based curriculum, engaging young minds to explore, invent, and discover the natural world that surrounds them.

We’ll be diving into Leave No Trace activities, seeing what it takes to hide in nature, and building recycled art, not to mention new games, activities, and camp songs!

Our camp programs have also grown for teens. CIT (Counselor-in-Training) sessions this summer will build leadership skills, confidence, and self-esteem. During these two-week sessions, CIT’s will work with the Camp Director to plan and lead hikes and outdoor adventures, design games and activities, and learn what it takes to be a CREA Counselor.

This summer, we also welcome Jenny Mueller, our new Camp Director, to CREA summer camp. Jenny comes to CREA with over 10 years of experience in youth and camp programming and operations. Jenny has been working with our Education Coordinators to learn about the history of CREAs summer programs and the operations of the Ecology Center.

Jenny has worked with CREA behind the scenes since last August and is thrilled to join the summer team!

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Place-Based Learning

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2019 newsletter. 

Thanks to grant funding this spring from Davis Conservation Foundation, Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, and Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, our educators are working on a new initiative to help local teachers find ways to take their learning outdoors. We are working with teachers to develop programs that they can teach in their own school forests.

CREA’s Education Coordinators are working with all 2nd grade teachers at Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, and Williams-Cone schools to compare plant and animal diversity in habitats that are right at their own schools. We aim to support teachers toward the goals of providing more place-based, science exploration during the school day.

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CREA Alum Baxter Worthing

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2019 newsletter.

Baxter Worthing participated in CREA programs and year-long studies through high school; was an Environmental Youth Leader; helped guide our younger campers; then became a student Board member. We asked about the impact CREA has had in his life, and he responded:

“When people ask why I decided to become a biologist, I usually start the story with CREA.

When I was in high school, CREA gave me the first taste of applied ecology that got me hooked for life. Being a teenager is frustrating sometimes, and being a teenage environmentalist is even more frustrating. CREA helped quell this frustration by introducing me to people who shared my passion for the outdoors and by giving us opportunities to work together to enact real, positive change.

In hindsight, what made that change so positive was the fact that we were educating people from our own community and working to preserve an ecosystem mere miles from our own backyards. Through this experience, CREA taught me that, although the goals of conservation are often expressed in the context of positive change at the global scale, conservation is most effectively enacted at the local scale by people who have a genuine connection to the land they wish to preserve.

National Parks are great for people who have the means and ability to visit them, but smaller-scale, local protected areas allow a much wider range of people to fall in love with nature. What makes CREA extra special is its dedication to both conservation AND education, and CREA helped me understand that the former is impossible without the latter. That notion is what inspires me to continue to learn as much I can about the natural world.” 

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2019: Spring Field Trips

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2019 newsletter.

Spring field trips to CREA have begun! 5th graders have been busy using soil corers to collect different types of soil around the preserve and compare their discoveries; 4th graders are using wind and light meters to measure renewable energy sources in nature; and 3rd graders scoop bugs from the pond to check out under a microscope and turn over logs to hunt for salamanders.

These classes are designed with teacher input to complement learning the students are doing in their classrooms.

“I wish we could stay here all day!” is a common parting phrase from our elementary student and teacher visitors.

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