About 10 teachers from the GRAND Learning Network took part in a Michigan United Conservation Clubs On the Ground Jr. project Thursday, August 17. The teachers have committed to more than 20 projects throughout the school year in an attempt to expose their students to new ways of learning and connect them with the outdoors.

“Kids want to be involved in nature, they want to get their hands dirty and learn about how they can have an effect on our environment,” said Murphy Elementary fifth-grade teacher Zsuzsanna Mahon.

Mahon was one of about 20 teachers participating in the Michigan United Conservation Clubs On the Ground project as part of the GRAND Learning Network’s annual orientation on August 17 at Rose Lake State Game Area.

The program was directed toward teachers who have already shown an interest in place-based education and unique ways of teaching such as getting outdoors and learning through hands-on projects in the greater Lansing area.

To kick off the event, about 10 fourth- through sixth-grade teachers broke off with MUCC’s Education Coordinator Shaun McKeon and Wildlife Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Topp for a crash course in On the Ground Jr. – a program aimed at getting kids fourth through 12th grade involved in habitat projects through hands-on initiatives.

Before putting on their work gloves, the group of teachers took a few moments to observe the field site. They listened for sounds indicating various wildlife species in the area and looked at the types of trees and vegetation that were present at the site. This reflection helped them gauge the impact that building new brush piles for wildlife habitat might have in the location.

Each teacher sweated, got their hands dirty and some even got a bump or bruise while building rabbitat – habitat to help rabbits and other small critters survive and thrive. The process involved building brush piles from sticks, logs and other debris.

Although each OTG Jr. project can be tailored to the age of kids and their abilities, the teachers were able to see how the program introduces students to nature in a unique way that fosters learning and inspires teamwork and leadership amongst students. The program also plants the seed of conservation in our youth and helps them to understand the importance of protecting and bettering the world around us.

After four brush piles were built, the teachers headed to the archery range for the second part of a normal OTG Jr. day – learning about archery and wildlife identification. McKeon and Topp helped each teacher learn how to properly hold a bow and shoot it safely – one of various outdoor recreation activities that is done with each student participating in OTG Jr.

MUCC Conservation Educator Tyler Butler had teachers try and identify certain waterfowl species using a key that was provided.

Mahon said that OTG Jr. will help students feel that they have ownership and responsibility of their community and the world around them.

“Students love to be able to contribute and learn through non-traditional ways,” Mahon said. “They are able to make a tangible impact that they can then bring their friends and parents to experience.”

McKeon hopes that the teachers who attended will take what they learned back to their schools.

“If we can get these teachers involved and spread the conservation message that MUCC is so invested in, we will have a generation of conservationists in Michigan like nowhere else in the United States,” McKeon said.

If you or someone you know is an educator and would like to get your students or club involved in the OTG JR. program, contact Shaun McKeon at smckeon@mucc.org or Sarah Topp at stopp@mucc.org.