Nature nurtures teen scientists in Stanley Park

High school students with different timetables and a curriculum that is jam packed with content mean field trips for this age group can be tricky for teachers to execute.  As students get older, field trips tend to drop off in frequency. No matter the grade, though, experiential learning remains a valuable tool to engage students and apply learning.

This winter, several high school teachers have found creative ways to make field trips work and SPES School Programs staff were happy to create custom programs to meet the unique needs of several groups.  

As part of their annual leadership conference, students from St. George’s Senior School participated in a winter bird count along the edge of a frozen and snow-covered Lost Lagoon.  Observing dabbling ducks and diving sea birds provided fodder for conversations about the importance of diverse aquatic habitat for wintering birds and how human disturbance could potentially impact their ability to build up energy reserves during cold months. 

Prince of Wales Secondary School teachers invited SPES staff into their classrooms to continue the invasive species mapping project students had started in the fall while visiting the Park. Students used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to analyze the location and density of invasive English ivy plants. This data, which they collected themselves, was used to create the heat map seen below and allowed the students to decide on the best place to focus their removal efforts.  In spring, students will once again visit Stanley Park and, informed by their heat map, they’ll have a chance to remove ivy in the priority locations they’ve identified. This ongoing stewardship project combines technology, field research, and analytical skills while providing the opportunity for youth to have a direct positive impact on the ecosystem of Stanley Park.

Heat map produced by students using ArcGIS shows the density and distribution of invasive plants. (Photo: Jeannine Johnstone/SPES)

Another custom field trip designed to complement the grade 11 International Baccalaureate curriculum saw students examining different physical and behavioural adaptations of plants and animals that allow them to survive in the Park over winter. Thinking critically about the ways seasonal changes impact Park species, students were able to voice predictions about how a changing climate might influence Park ecology and look for signs indicating that recent extreme weather events have already had an impact.

Outdoor learning can be an inspiring and powerful tool for students at any level and SPES is grateful to the teachers we’ve worked with and the support of NSERC’s PromoScience Program in making these programs possible.

For more information about our school programs, please visit http://stanleyparkecology.ca/education/school-programs/ or contact Adria Hussain, School Programs Manager at school@stanleyparkecology.ca or call 604-257-6907.

By Adria Hussain, School Programs Manager