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EDUCATION REPORT – Schoolyard Habitats - 2003-11-20

Broadcast: November 20, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Educational gardens called “Schoolyard Habitats” are growing at schools in almost every American state. To make a habitat, schoolchildren create a space for plants in their schoolyards. They put in plants that are inviting to birds and to insects called butterflies. Then they watch the birds, plants and insects as they grow and multiply.

Teachers praise the habitats as valuable learning tools. To students in habitat programs, for example, photosynthesis is not just something to learn from a book. Children can study their own plants as the plants complete this process of combining water and carbon dioxide. They learn that plants can use light to make the energy that keeps the plant alive.

Students in habitat programs can watch for and identify birds. They can learn about trees and flowers. They can build and operate weather stations and make mathematical records of weather activities. They can estimate the number of baby frogs in a water pond. They can write environment reports about the habitats in science class and write stories about them in English class.

The National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Virginia, developed the Schoolyard Habitats program. It started in nineteen-ninety-six. At first, three-hundred-fifty-five schools developed habitats. Today, there are two-thousand Schoolyard Habitats in forty-nine of America’s fifty states.

The Gowana Middle School in Clifton Park, New York, operates one of these habitats. It has beautiful flowers and bushes. A waterfall flows over rocks in a large pond. Bird-feeding stations are placed just outside classroom windows. Students can observe, identify and record sightings of birds from their classroom.

From November through April, they share their records with scientists at the Cornell University Lab’s Classroom FeederWatch program. The scientists document the movements of winter bird populations.

Gowana students also study monarch butterflies. They take part in the Monarch Watch program of the University of Kansas. The young people catch and mark the butterflies, then free them. This way, scientists can study where and when the insects fly.

Life sciences teacher Deborah Smith says students will always need books. But she also says working with habitats leads to deeper understanding.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.