Land lab enhances outdoor learning for students

Students at Northwood Elementary School use the land lab during the past school year. Contributed
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Students at Northwood Elementary School use the land lab during the past school year. Contributed

Concept at Northwood school an educational blessing during pandemic.

CLAYTON – Although the land lab at Northwood Elementary School was in the works before COVID-19′s arrival at the Northmont schools, it proved to be even more of an educational blessing than anticipated.

The lab designed by staff members, a naturalist from Aullwood and Mike Huff from Levin Porter Architects includes an amphitheater, an erosion table, weather station, native area with wildflowers and several outdoor classroom spaces. The lab work was done by Stymco Construction.

The cost of this land lab was $32,400, said Jenny Wood, information officer, Northmont City Schools.

A land lab at Northwood Elementary School has been a popular addition, particularly in the days of COVID-19. Contributed
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A land lab at Northwood Elementary School has been a popular addition, particularly in the days of COVID-19. Contributed

Brandon Knecht, Northmont director of business operations, and Jason Watson, Northmont operations director, worked with the others on planning for the land lab now used by staff and students. The school has approximately 340 students.

The land lab was part of the district’s strategic plan that calls for continuing “to develop and enhance outdoor learning areas at each school.”

Although outdoor learning areas are available at all elementary schools, the early learning center and high school, the Northwood land lab is a first in the district. Work is being done on creating other land labs.

“Though the concept was started pre-COVID 19, the timeliness of the land lab couldn’t have been better to give those students an outdoor safe environment to learn in while COVID safety guidelines were in place,” Knecht said. “Being the first year the land lab was available to use, it was hard to determine if COVID or the newness of the area was the driving factor for it being heavily used.”

Amy Ellis was a fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Northwood last school year.

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“Using the land lab as part of my science instruction this past year certainly enhanced the classroom experience for my students! Outdoor education is naturally engaging for students, so just hearing that we were going to be outside for class had students, who otherwise may not have been very invested in what we were doing that day, excited to get outside, get our hands dirty and learn,” Ellis said.

“In several cases, the land lab allowed my classes to experience first hand what we were learning about in science from changing ecosystems and food webs to conservatism to the insects they may have heard their loved ones talking about at home,” she said.

The land lab could be used both during the virtual part of the 2020-21 school year and then when students were again onsite, Ellis said.

“I feel so fortunate for all of the incredible resources we have in our district, and I can’t wait to see the exciting things we’ll do with the Northwood land lab in the years to come,” she said.

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The impact of a land lab learning environment on students shouldn’t be underestimated, Knecht said.

“I think it is important to note that something so simple in concept has such an extraordinary impact on our students’ education. As educators and school employees who may not have direct contact with students, we need to continue to work together to think of creative and innovative ways to engage students and provide them with these diverse learning opportunities, especially to balance the screen time this generation has been accustomed to,” he said.

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com.