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By Janet Staal, Director of Nature-based/ Outdoor Education

“Trust me, you’ll need these skills one day.”

Do you remember hearing this phrase while you were in school? Rather than waiting to use a skill for some future task later in life, our middle school students have the opportunity to see how what they are learning connects to real-world problem-solving experiences today.

As we began the school year, working with the community partner Lower Grand River Organization of Watershed ( LGROW), West Side Christian sixth and seventh-grade students dipped their toes into testing water quality in our local watershed. Thanks to a grant awarded through Groundswell Michigan, our students were supplied with the gear and equipment to conduct water quality tests. Students gained a background understanding of human impact in our watersheds as it relates to our watershed’s water quality. 

Back in class, the 6th and 7th graders applied their science, social studies, and language arts education to research ecosystem threats that directly and indirectly impact water quality (based on their areas of interest) in our school forest and beyond.  The student research teams then presented the possible problem-solving solutions to improve our nearby nature preserve.

“We came up with creative ways to present our information. It was fun!” – Makenna

As a staff, we work in collaboration to create project-based student learning experiences that integrate content knowledge.  These projects naturally require the use of the students’ developing skills – reading, writing, speaking, comprehension – while also tapping into student interest. The result is real-world problem-solving solutions where students demonstrate their learning.  Partnering with the Van Andel Institute this year, our teachers and students are connecting student learning to real-life experiences through hands-on exploration and conversations with community experts.

“I liked the opportunity to practice my speaking skills.” – Drew

Stay tuned! This is the first in a series of blog posts. In the weeks to come, we will be publishing student-written blog posts where you’ll hear their voices as they share how they are working to implement their problem-solving solutions in our school forest area and beyond.

Janet Staal is the director of nature-based/outdoor education at West Side Christian School.

Click here to learn more about outdoor education opportunities at WSCS.