Lincoln Elementary School in Madison, WI, is full of student Habitat Heroes! Our process of creating an Outdoor Learning Lab to engage our school and local community in outdoor learning experiences continues! Our dream is to have an outdoor classroom, a fitness path with exercise stops, and small areas of native habitat so students, families, and teachers in our community have access to real outdoor learning environments and activities. We believe these types of activities strengthen and promote healthy communities, and foster pride in local neighborhoods. Lincoln Elementary School was recently honored with a Conservation Scholar Award from our Madison Audubon Society for our efforts in Citizen Science and our own Bird-a-thon efforts.
Our love of Backyard Birds begins with students "adopting" one backyard bird species about which to become an "expert". Students use Cornell University's "allaboutbirds" website, the "Birder's Handbook," and field guides to help them become experts on their bird species. Students create a circular calendar to map out each species' annual life cycle. This calendar is a visual which we use later to create our own field guide: comparing and contrasting plumage of birds (males/females/juveniles), habitats used by birds for feeding and nesting, nesting times, nest shapes/sizes/placements, and migration maps. Finally, one class leads the rest of the school in a Bird-a-thon fundraiser for bird habitat and conservation efforts! Pledges either per classroom, or per bird species seen, are gathered. Classes come out for 1/2 hour of small-group instruction and data collection led by 4th/5th graders. Last year we raised $151 for bird conservation efforts! This year we have become even more engaged in Citizen Science efforts through eBird, Project Feeder Watch, and the Great Backyard Bird Count. Students monitor our classroom bird feeders on a daily basis, and are responsible for data entry. They love reviewing the online data we have collected this year!
Some general action items we have accomplished include: 1) making a quarter-mile gravel walking path around our playground, 2) purchasing 14 binoculars, bird field guides, and BirdSleuth curriculum to support science classroom instruction about birds and habitats, 3) creating an Orienteering Kit, including compasses and a scavenger hunt, 4) creating a school garden (including purchase of tools and a shed), 5) participation in Citizen Science through eBird, Project Feeder Watch, and the Great Backyard Bird Count, 6) raising money for bird conservation through the Great Wisconsin Bird-a-thon.
In addition to our full-day Birdathon event, students and our community have been involved in our Outdoor Learning Lab in many ways. Our after-school Girls on the Run program uses our walking path in the fall and spring seasons. Volunteers from the community have come to teach orienteering. Volunteers from our Madison Audubon Society have come to teach birding. Volunteers for the student chapter of the UW-Madison Wildlife Society volunteered to help with our Birdathon last spring. Neighbors come to use the walking path on a regular basis before and after school.
Our hopes include: 1) creating small habitat patches containing native plants (for food/shelter) and a water source for birds, 2) purchasing additional binoculars so students in a classroom of 30 do not need to share, 3) purchasing a telescope for closer bird observation, 4) purchasing more birdfeeders so more classrooms have access to birds right outside their windows, and then can contribute to Citizen Science efforts, 5) purchasing birdseed to fill the feeders, 6) repeat the Birdathon, engaging the local community in fundraising efforts.