Students plant a classroom at Hilltop Primary

MINNETRISTA, Minn. -- A second grade class crowds around a ginko sapling as a volunteer from Tree Trust tells them about one of the world's most ancient tree varieties.

"This tree grew back when the dinosaurs did, when most of our other trees, they came through a little later in time," the volunteer explained.

Students are learning about this particular tree, because it will soon be part of the landscape at Hilltop Primary School in the Westonka school district.

And it's just one of many.

"We received a grant from the Tree Trustto create a new outdoor classroom and a mini arboretum," said Physical Education teacher Mike Wallace. He's the driving force behind this effort to find a way to get kids outdoors for learning at Hilltop.

The trees and benches installed this fall will be the school's third outdoor learning space. Hilltop already has two other areas where classes can gather and work on assignments.

"Studies have shown that when kids are actually doing things, they retain it more and they're more successful than if they read about it,"
said Wallace.

Wallace believes getting outdoors offers a teachers a chance to incorporate physical activity and natural surroundings into their lesson plans.

Fourth grader Melissa Drill explained one assignment, "Our teacher... told us to shut our eyes and listen, and so we had to hear everything we saw, and we wrote about it."

"They do everything from measurement out here with rulers and yardsticks, to reading and writing out here," added Wallace.

Students like the change of pace. "It's outside, it's not as cramped and it's a little more peaceful, so it's easier to concentrate," said fourth grader Adam Born.

For added good measure, this round of tree planting is something the students are doing themselves. Each class is responsible for planting and maintaining their own tree.

"When the kids come out and do it, they become invested," said Wallace, who hopes this investment will be a lasting one as these students get older.

"When these kids are in high school, and they come back, and they're going to know where their tree is," said Wallace. "Kind of a way for them to measure their change, too."


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