Day of surprises

Published 8:25 am Thursday, April 27, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
BERRIEN SPRINGS - Hundreds of fifth graders tossed their textbooks aside Wednesday morning.
Instead of learning in the classroom, the students were bused to the Berrien County Youth Fair Grounds in Berrien Springs for the Fifth Grade Natural Resource Day.
Much of the day was a hands-on learning experience as students swarmed from one station to another for information on the area's natural resources and the importance of recognizing and maintaining them.
One of the groups participating in sessions like Cool Facts About Plants, Turning Trash Into Treasure and Wonders of Wildlife was Sue Bowser's fifth graders from Howard Elementary School in Niles.
The lesson at each stop was taught by a professional in the respected field, including the manager of the recycling center at the Southeast Berrien County Landfill Andrea Alexander and master gardeners Jeri Spitzer and Mary Videnovich.
Alexander explained renewable and non-renewable resources, the concept of the three ‘R's - reduce, re-use, recycle - and how the landfill conserves “air space” by crunching hundreds of pieces of cardboard together and binding them into one condensed block.
To demonstrate how humans have consumed the earth's natural resources over time, Alexander brought out an “earth bucket” filled with tiny pebbles. Each student grabbed a small portion to represent the amount used hundreds of years ago. Then, Alexander instructed the fifth graders to grab two large handfuls of the pebbles to show how much of the available natural resources people today use.
Most of the activities like the earth bucket and Botany Bingo at the Wonders of Wildlife session got the students involved with the learning process. Videnovich would read clues to the students who would then place a bingo chip on their cards over various types of flowers, fruits and leaves. Spitzer and Videnovich's site was also covered with visual learning tools like potatoes, carrots, flowers and posters covered with plant varieties.
The students also got a close look at some of the area's slippery, slimy and slithering residents from Pat Underwood of the Love Creek Nature Center near Berrien Center.
Underwood discussed the types of amphibians and reptiles common in Berrien County and walked around to each student allowing them a view of a tiger salamander and a whiff of the “smoky, oily smell” of the musk or stinkpot turtle. The group also got a peak at a Massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous snake found in Michigan.
Wednesday was the first of two days of instruction at the fair grounds with 11 schools attending.
Nearly 675 students will have experienced the lessons of the 12th Annual Fifth Grade Natural Resources Day.
The event ties into Michigan Arbor Week and Earth Day.