The kids have math and science back to back and work on both subjects during this block; their STREAM class is two hours long and coincides with lunch so they have 2.5 hours to explore. They don’t go outside every day, but try to on most days. This is a new concept for Otsego students and they are loving it, “I thought it was going to be more like school, just sitting outside, but we’re actually interacting with the outdoors,” says student Mya McPherson.
Their outdoor classroom is likely a stream, river or wooded area nearby. “I love the fact that it’s outside and we get to go to different places and do experiments in different environments. It makes math fun,” says student Luke Stender.
Nathan Alkire is the instructor for the class and brought STREAM school to Otsego. He taught in Hamilton prior to joining Otsego and started the area’s first STREAM school there. These students are learning the same math and science standards as other seventh grade students, just in a different way. In the first two weeks of school, students have been out to local streams running experiments, ““We work in small groups,” explains student Sophie Maxwell, “He gives us a lot of different questions that we can ask and then we have to find the answer to the questions.”
They’ve been taking measurements of the depth of the water, the speed of the current and studying the differences and similarities of the two locations and bodies of water. “They are learning how to write a scientific lab report, collect scientific data and construct visuals to explain what they learned and why,” Alkire explains. “Much of our time has been spent learning how to learn in nature along with enjoying what nature has to offer,” Alkire adds. The kids have also learned that nature can be unpredictable as a few kids came out of their experiments muddy and wet!
The students have made some fun discoveries, including a box turtle on a trail way that sits south of OMS. The outdoor class aims to give students rich connections to the math and science concepts they are learning by using tangible, living things that are right around them, right in their own community.
“I think it’s just so cool,” McPherson says about the class and is looking forward to what’s next, “I’m so excited for what this year holds because if we are already walking in streams in the first two weeks, I can’t imagine what we’ll be doing the rest of the year.”One future project for this STREAM class will be working on the creation of a two-acre pond at the Kalamazoo Nature. With partnerships with the Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC), Ducks Unlimited, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, students will develop a plan for how the pond should be constructed taking into account materials and environmental factors. They’ll also configure a time line and budget. Students will have to present their plan to the KNC board of directors and other stakeholders for approval. They will also develop a plan for monitoring the pond over time for environmental impacts that would include ideas for ongoing investigations that future classes could conduct. There is not yet a start date on this project.