Leading up to Friday’s Earth Day celebration, Conserve School recognized “Earth Week,” which included after-school student-led seminars on a variety of current environmental topics. On Monday Pixie and Sarah B. educated their peers on “Bomb Trains”—trains that carry highly volatile fossil fuels. On Tuesday Emily K. and Matt showed the students how to move quietly through the woods using “Fox Walking,” “Mountain Lion Crawling,” and “Deer Ears.” Students put their new skills to use by playing Red Light Green Light, Bat and Moth, Steal the Bandana, and walking blindfolded through the woods. After dinner, Katie led a group discussion on the environmental benefits of veganism, which including taste-testing vegan brownies! Wednesday featured seminars on hacky sacks and computer science. Andre and Marty explained the origins of hacky sacks, and taught others how to play. Alex V. shared about how new technology can help solve environmental problems. He explained how small computers called Arduinos can control water flow to plants to help with water conservation. On Thursday Grace and Maddy facilitated a seminar on round singing, and taught others songs about nature and the earth. We are grateful to all of the student leaders for the hard work that they put into leading educational, fun and engaging seminars!
With spring unfolding all around us, it’s no doubt that folks are getting pretty excited for this new season on campus. After all, CS12 students haven’t known much of our campus without snow. They haven’t experienced the wonders of biking the trails on a sunny day, hearing the loon calls across the lake, and stargazing in the warm spring air.
At the same time, some of us can’t help but feel nostalgic for the times (barely more than a week ago!) when snow covered our campus in a Narnia-like blanket, allowing us to tromp through the forest knee-deep in its bounty and experience the trails on skis.
One of the highlights of winter adventures on campus included the building of a quinzhee. Similar to an igloo, a quinzhee is a shelter made from snow; while an igloo is comprised of hard blocks of snow, a quinzhee is formed by gathering up snow in a large pile, and then hollowing it out.
One weekend in late February, students helped build a quinzhee. This proved to be quite a labor-intensive project, which was a welcome way to keep warm. They built it large enough for about 10 students to fit comfortably. Students even had the opportunity to pile in for a weekend sleepover!
This past weekend Conserve School Teaching Fellow and fishing enthusiast, Paul Nicoletti, took a group of nine students ice fishing on Big Bateau Lake which is adjacent to the Conserve School campus. The students put on snowshoes and loaded their fishing gear into a sled for the trip to the lake. The day began with temperatures in the upper 30’s and high clouds. The students set up a small warming tent and used hand powered ice augers to open up their fishing holes. Over the next two hours they caught a few fish, some of which are pictured below. Then the wind picked up and it began to snow. The kept fishing for a bit longer and returned to campus. The students reported that they had a great time and are looking forward to another fishing adventure with Paul on a new lake next weekend.
Lately in history class students have been learning a lot of cool topics including how ice has been traditionally gathered from Northwoods lakes, the story of the Children’s Blizzard, and about Ernest Shackleton‘s famous Antarctic adventure.
Shackleton’s adventure became an endurance marathon in unimaginably difficult conditions once the expedition ship became trapped in the Weddell Sea ice. As part of their studies, students re-enacted elements of the experience in order to better understand the hardships the expedition members endured, the skills that allowed them to survive the bitter weather, and the keys to Shackleton’s successful leadership — not a single member of the expedition was lost despite the fact that almost two years passed between the beginning of the voyage and the moment that the final crew members were rescued.
The real Shackleton voyage below and the Conserve School re-enactment above. (Photo below from the American Museum of Natural History)
For a quick outline of the journey and more historic photographs that will remind you of the photos of our students’ below, take a look at the American Museum of Natural History Shackleton Exhibit website.
Class begins with “good morning everybody.”
Students gather around to look at each other’s water color assignments. The prompt for the week was Deciduous. One student is working on identifying a particularly tricky tree for a visual phenology observation.
Nancy is working on a set of mats Dyed a rich red brown color by using rust.
After this students have time to finish their hand drawings and mat them. Hang up Watercolors and their hand drawings in common spaces around the school. While Neil Diamond plays Sweet Caroline in the background the students chat about upcoming homework assignments like their stewardship testimonies and their Demons project in English.
As students finish up they start more phenology work. Nancy gave some great suggestions like Sap, Snow melting around trees, and great buds. Some students felt they would feel more inspired if they could have a brief trip outside. When Nancy gave the OK the majority of the group bolted outside for a breath of fresh air and a few photos before coming back in. Grant probably had the most trouble coming back in, and probably would have laid in the snow all day if allowed.
(Thanks to Teaching Fellow Darcy Hannon for providing this description and these photos.)
This past week in Earth Art students learned how to felt their own slippers with Terry Arnold. Terry is the mother of a former Conserve School semester student. She brought wool from her farm in Southern Minnesota and showed the students how to shape the wool into a slipper, add decorative stitching, and sew on a leather sole. Some students are even adding needle felted designs onto their slipper!
(Thanks to Teaching Fellow Eleva Potter for providing this description and these photos.)
The first three weeks at Conserve School students enhanced their skills in classic skiing, winter camping, and shelter building in their Outdoor Skills class. More recently, students have been practicing their vertical ascent on the rock wall. Students have the resources on campus to learn climbing and belaying techniques at the Lowenwood Recreation Center. In class students learned the specific techniques of securing harnesses, tying eight knots and speaking climber dialect to practice safe rock wall climbing. During this class students become comfortable in their abilities as climbers and belayers, learning that this sport requires attention to detail, clear communication and a generous amount of trust. Scaling wall, students are strapped in their harnesses and ropes as they test their ability to exercise the necessary skills for a safe climb.
There is no better way to describe the climbing experience than having a student describe it in his own writing. According to student Alex Varga’s E-portfolio entry, he learned how to accept the mental and physical challenges of the climb when he was partnered with his belayer Julia, an Outdoor Skills Teaching Fellow.
My legs started to shake and my sweaty hands and forearms locked up tighter than the knot that ensured my safety. I climbed slowly up the wall, using everything I could to my advantage. The sense that I wasn’t secured in my harness added an extra 50 pounds to the climb. I took another 3 holds and was just under the top of the wall. I looked down. My whole body churned and I went into panic as I couldn’t remember my instruction as to how to begin my descent.
“Hey, uh, so what should I do now?” I said, my voice trembling. Julia said “Say, Begin to lower”. Although the words that came out of my mouth were “Begin to lower”, I was thinking about falling down the wall and snapping my neck on the floor mat. The tension on the rope was tight but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. “Let go of the holds” she said.
For a moment, I dangled there. All I could do is hope that her confidence outweighed mine. I let go of the holds and felt weightless, the harness holding my body against the wall. I quickly propelled down and touched the ground moments later. I said “Thank you”, not realizing that this was the final step of the mechanical list of verbal commands that we were to learn and use while climbing. “Thank you” she said.”
As Alex expressed in his writing, climbing is more than just physical exertion for our Conserve students. They learn how to be supportive, embrace challenges and practice responsible climbing and belaying with a partner. Some students are hesitant to climb and belay knowing that they must rely on their own physical strength and endurance in order to be safe, stay optimistic and have fun. Despite some students’ fear of heights and others’ fear that they are lacking physical strength, many students attempted and succeeded in building their confidence on the wall. It is during classroom and community activities such as rock climbing that Conserve School continues to motivate students to feel comfortable and confident in their abilities as individuals and in groups. It’s a pleasure watching students embrace their challenges and succeed each day at Conserve School.
(Thanks to Teaching Fellow Emily Hayne for providing this description and these photos.)
A recent Friday afternoon was not spent indoors with three hours of lecture; instead, it was a massive outdoor game of student tag. Layered in winter clothes and boots, Conserve School students practiced teamwork in a joint Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Outdoor Skills class. Students spent this time in the snowy woods acting as herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores simulating population ecology. Each student was instructed to search for natural resources including water and food as they scurried through the snow near Big Donahue Lake. Like wolves in a pack prey on deer, our student carnivores searched together for the herbivore and omnivore populations. While running and hiding from the carnivores, the herbivores were instructed to locate and tag water and food resources (images strapped to trees) in order to live. The sub zero temperatures that day made the activity even more challenging.
Determined to survive, not all populations could be sustained; students experienced the very real struggles animals face as they seek sustenance in winter while being stalked by a predator. With this form of experiential learning students enjoy the winter weather while gaining insight to population growth, data collecting, and outdoor play. As an extension of outdoor play, students observed and recorded the fluctuation of herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore populations.
(Thanks to Teaching Fellow Emily Hayne for providing this description and these photos.)
This past weekend 40 Conserve School students headed into Land O’ Lakes for the Three Bear Sled Dog Races, a true Northwoods experience. This annual weekend of races draws sled dog teams from all over the Midwest, yet has a small-town feel because most of the spectators and officials are Land O’ Lakes (population 861) locals. The start and finish lines and accompanying smaller events are all set up on the elementary school and town hall grounds, so there are lots of activities packed into a small area.
The main events were several different types of dog sled races on both Saturday and Sunday. Small and large dog teams pulled both sleds and skiers, with adult and junior divisions. These main activities were accompanied by a craft show, a bake sale area, and fun events like the Mutt Races, the Barcalounger Race, and ice skating.
Students weren’t just spectators, but they also played an important role in assuring the success of the races. Many students spent time as trail help. They were spread out along the race course to assist teams if they got into trouble and to make sure that no spectators were on the course while the race was being run. Other students helped prepare and sell food to those in attendance. The money raised from food sales helps cover the cost of the event. A favorite activity was dressing up as the snowman, Chilly Charlie, and promoting the Northwoods Blizzard Blast. The Blizzard Blast is another community activity that students will have the opportunity to volunteer at in the near future.
It was a pleasure for me to share one of my favorite Northwoods Traditions with the students of CS12.
Head of School
Please enjoy these photos, most of which were taken by students.
On Wednesdays the school day at Conserve School ends a bit earlier than on other days. I took advantage of this fact this week to introduce a group of students to one of my favorite hikes. We began at the Lowenstine Academic Building (LAB) where we donned snowshoes and were joined by my two golden retrievers, Teddy & Copper.
From the LAB we traveled north skirting the shores of Little Donahue Lake and Lake Elaine. We soon came upon the campus boundary which is also the border with Michigan. Crossing the border we entered the Sylvania Wilderness Area. Upon entering the Sylvania we left trails behind as we bushwhacked to the shore of Big Bateau Lake. We continued north passing Florence Lake and eventually arrived on the southern shore of Loon Lake. The trip out was three kilometers, not a long distance, but the heavy snow made it feel much farther.
After a brief break at Loon Lake we followed our path back to campus. The trip back took half as long as the trip out because we no longer had to create a path through the deep snow. I was very pleased to see the smiles and on the tired, but satisfied, students as we returned the snowshoes to storage and headed to the dining room for a well earned meal.
Head of School