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TAO Educationhelps middle schoolers with enviro-science

Renee Shadforth

This year’s seventh graders at Sierra Mountain Middle School lucked out.

In years past, sixth graders have gone to environmental camp and eighth graders go to Mono Lake, but there hasn’t been an outdoor education opportunity for seventh graders, until now.

Last week Sierra Mountain Middle School seventh graders became scientists for a day at Sagehen Field Station. The students viewed macro-invertebrates through eye lenses, measured water quality, went on a nature hike and identified plant species.

For most of the students, getting into the creek and checking out bugs was the most memorable activity.

“My favorite was going in the water because it’s where we got to wear waders,” said student Johnny Dibernardo.

This year, the Teachers’ Association for Outdoor Education (TAO) partnered with Sierra Mountain Middle School’s seventh-grade classes to provide a series of outdoor experiences integrated into seventh-grade science and humanities curriculum. A couple instructors from Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships also came out to help with the project. The opportunity came thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Lahontan Community Foundation.

It was the first time TAO has had the opportunity to fulfill every aspect of its mission, said Derek Larson, TAO founder and president.

“We wanted to take it a step beyond the outdoor experience,” Larson said.

The association’s mission is to integrate outdoor experiences with classroom learning and youth development. TAO Education is run by professional educators, with experience in outdoor leadership. Larson started the non-profit organization in November 2001.

The trip to Sagehen was the first part of the three-section eco-literacy project. Each section has a literary component. For the trip to Sagehen Station, for example, students read John Steinbeck essays to discuss the effect of landscape on human psyche.

Then the students take the authors’ experiences to the outdoors to make their own discoveries.

“It really applied with what we’re doing in the classroom,” said seventh-grade teacher Hien Larson, no relation to Derek Larson. “This project shows us how we can make learning come alive.”

In January, the students will return to Sagehen and learn to read the landscape in a different season. They will hike into the station on snowshoes and learn winter survival techniques and avalanche safety.

In the third part of the eco-literacy project, the students will take a rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River in May.

For more information on TAO Education, call (866) 663-9484 or check out http://www.taoeducation.org.


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