Philadelphia school students are using the KestrelMet 6000 weather station to learn about nature and develop deeper relationships with the world outside. Grid Magazine recently featured a story about how students at Penn Alexander School study nature and weather patterns in their schoolyard garden.
Keep reading for an excerpt from the Grid magazine article.
Public schools throughout the Philadelphia area are using their schoolyards to engage students with nature in order to reinforce learning goals and encourage them to develop deeper relationships with the world outside.
On Sunday, January 15, Penn Alexander School science teacher Stephanie Kearney and Craig Johnson of design firm Interpret Green (his chosen job title is "chief habiteer") mounted a KestrelMet weather station in the school garden near 43rd and Locust Streets in West Philadelphia.
The weather station, consisting of an assortment of sensors set on a tripod, will collect real-time information on the conditions outside the school, all of which will be available for classroom learning as well as for researchers and advocates who can make use of a growing network of local readings from similar stations.
This is not Kearney’s first venture into using technology to connect her students with nature. Kearney has worked with the Philadelphia Water Department to set up a bird nest box with a camera feed, as well as a soil moisture sensor.
"I’m big on applying for grants," Kearney says. Kearney won a grant from Toshiba America for the weather station. "We had been talking for years about getting a weather station. Craig helped us put together a proposal for a full weather station — air quality and nest camera and bird feeders." The weather sensors are the first phase, with the nest camera to follow.
"Putting up a birdhouse and seeing a bird fly in and then lay an egg, [students] don’t have to be looking at an eagle’s nest in Seattle," Johnson says. "They can walk outside and say, ‘It’s right there.’" The same goes for learning about climate and air quality. "I think it’s hard for children and anybody to understand the climate if they don’t understand weather. Where’s weather? It’s right outside your door."
"The idea is to put scientific instruments outdoors around the school so that the students can extend their senses, so they can use that information so they can see the world around them in a much better way, a much more fulfilling way," Johnson says.
Johnson points out that the award for Lots-To-Learn highlighted the impact that these projects can make for a relatively low cost. Interpret Green has continued to work with the school district on additional schoolyards incorporating monitoring equipment and nature learning spaces. "I’m hoping to reimagine whatever potential there is to connect children and their classroom to the living world so that the school grounds become the nature center," he says.
Outdoor, hands-on learning is accessible to children regardless of how well they are doing in other subjects. A student who has trouble with written materials in the classroom is at no disadvantage when it comes to watching birds or observing soil microbes under a microscope.
Now, with funding from local pharmaceutical company Spark Therapeutics, Johnson, Schultz and partners such as the Philadelphia Water Department are working with the School District of Philadelphia’s GreenFutures sustainability office to scale up the use of schoolyards as science learning spaces and research stations.
Garner, Schultz and Johnson all emphasized the importance of using reliable equipment that will yield data that will not only be useful in the classroom but that external researchers and advocates can use.
At district-wide scale, such a network could provide powerful information about the Philadelphia environment. "If you were to imagine we had 200 nodes and we could measure real-time heat index and measure real-time weather, have sensors in the ground, stormwater sensors," Johnson says, "you could create a map, and show it all in real time."
Reinventing the outside of schools also has the potential to change the relationship of students with their world.
"How schools imagine and perceive their schoolyards is a reflection of how they see their relationship with nature," Johnson says. A brick and concrete school building surrounded by asphalt and a mowed lawn serves to seal children away from the outside world.
The right kind of schoolyard, however, offers children the chance to explore their world and develop a sense of wonder, Johnson says, "to have a direct corporeal experience with your own senses of seeing the complexity of the world for yourself and know it is real. That’s the opportunity of a schoolyard."
To read the full article, please visit Grid Magazine.