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Field Trips Turn New Information into Knowledge and Provide a Reward for Testing


April 24, 2019

Fourth graders at Meadowlark Elementary School (MES) will escape to Beaver Creek Park on Friday, April 26 for a field trip. Although the primary purpose of the field trip is to learn through engaging explorations that invite students to become keen observers of the natural environment beyond the classroom walls, it is also a reward and a break from testing.

Research shows that outdoor classrooms present learners with captivating sights, smells and textures, stimulating all of the senses as well as the imagination. The more young people engage their senses, the more they increase their capacity to take in and turn new information into knowledge.

According to Mrs. Emily Scofield, a fourth grade teacher at MES, discoveries outside will be brought inside so that these young biologists can deepen their understanding of nature through a series of intentionally designed tasks.

“While in the Park, we’ll collect water samples and bring them back to the classroom where students will be able to examine them under the microscope to see the living microorganisms. We’ll also learn what nature provides, collecting plants and learning their medicinal uses,” Scofield explained.

In 1916, by act of Congress, a ten thousand acre strip of land along the north slopes of the Bear Paw Mountains was set aside as a public park and its care entrusted to the city of Havre. Originally known as Beaver Creek Playground, it is now called Beaver Creek Park and has a reputation as the largest county park in the nation.

Within this natural recreation area, students will be hiking the three and a half mile Bear Paw Nature Trail. Native Cree and Blackfeet people referred to the mountains that are the namesake of the Trail as “The Mountains of the Bear.” The Nature Trail follows an old road created by soldiers stationed at Fort Assiniboine near Havre. As students hike, they can imagine the loaded wagons that used this historical trail for transportation.

At the northern end of the trail, the vegetation is predominantly grassland while the southern half is a mixed forest of cottonwoods, pines and serviceberry. Located along the entire length of the Trail are ground level “bear paw” markers which students will use to learn about the Park’s highlights: the flora, fauna and history of the area.

Not all of the field trip activities will be science and history related, however. In the picnic area, students will gather natural materials—such as twigs, leaves, stones, and pinecones—to create a sculpture that imitates the art of Andy Goldsworthy. Born in 1956, Goldsworthy is a British artist and naturalist who collaborates with nature to make his creations, which represent the passage of time and the transient nature of all things. Working as both sculptor and photographer, Goldsworthy crafts his art with an awareness that the landscape will change. He carefully documents these fleeting collaborations with nature through photography. “It’s not about art,” he explains on his website. “It’s just about life and the need to understand that a lot of things in life do not last.”

“Besides working to understand nature by directly participating in nature, students will get the reward of sunshine, fresh air, and a break from testing. Since the fourth grade is a benchmark grade, they get assessed often, so this field trip is their reward for working so hard,” Scofield said.

According to MES Principal Jon Martin, “K-6 students all take MAPS three times a year to measure progress. Grades 3-6 take Smarter Balanced in reading and math once each year as per federal and state requirement. Fourth and eighth grade take the science CRT per federal and state requirement. Some years, schools get selected to take the federal NAEP test at fourth and eighth grades. This year Hartland, Meadowlark and Chinook Junior High each were selected for NAEP.”

MAPS stands for the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) series of exams. These are computerized adaptive tests, which means every student gets a unique set of test questions based on responses to previous questions. As the student answers correctly, questions get harder. If the student answers incorrectly, the questions get easier. The purpose of the MAP series is to determine what the student knows and is ready to learn next. Because assessment drives instruction, it is important for teachers to frequently measure student progress so that they can efficiently plan instruction.

Another computerized adaptive assessment, Smarter Balanced is the testing system adopted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) to measure student progress in English Language Arts, Literacy and Mathematics. According to OPI, the Smarter Balanced assessments are not only designed to support teaching and learning but to provide more accurate and meaningful information about what students are learning with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

OPI also requires school districts to use the Montana Comprehensive Assessment System (MontCAS CRT) to assess student progress in science.

The State additionally complies with federal mandates and requires that school districts occasionally submit to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Given to a representative sample of students across the country, NAEP is the assessment that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects. A congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), NAEP has provided information about how students are performing academically since 1969. From these scores, IES develops and publishes The Nation’s Report Card.

“Fourth graders also take the DIBELS test, which assesses accuracy and fluency with reading and measures a reader’s ability to effortlessly translate letters to sounds and sounds to words,” Scofield said.

DIBELS is an acronym for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Through various subtests, DIBELS can measure critical skills and abilities that are necessary for reading success, like fluency. The fluent reader is one whose decoding processes are automatic, requiring no conscious attention. Such capacity then enables readers to allocate their attention to the comprehension and meaning of the text. In fourth grade, students on benchmark for reading read skillfully with meaning and purpose using appropriate comprehension and vocabulary strategies. DIBELS testing delivers instructionally relevant information on all readers. Such progress monitoring enables teachers to change and intensify intervention until the desired pattern of literacy improvement is achieved.

Many of these assessments come near the year’s end so as to determine progress and readiness for the next grade level.

“After all this testing, you can see why students need a break, a reward, and some sunshine and fresh air,” Scofield concluded.

Fourth graders will also go fishing at Fresno on May 10 and take another field trip to Malta on May 15.


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