Weeks ago I enjoyed following Artondale Elementary kids to a number of environmentally exceptional locations in their school. The program was the imaginative creation of Patricia C. Verdella Keenan, Artondale’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) specialist. With cooperation of students and staff, she turned part the front office into a humid, warm, tropical scene, part of the library into a jungle, the principal’s office into polar bear country, and other well decorated creations students could experience hands on.
“Students in second and third grades were tackling a challenging topic on climate zones across the world,” she explained. “They completed an extensive unit on temperature zones and color coded a map to show patterns these climate zones make.
“It wasn’t until they completed their first quick check that I noticed they really didn’t understand what it meant to live in a hot climate,” Verdella Keenan said. “Asked what climate they would recommend for someone who likes warm weather and hiking in the forest, a majority chose tropical. I realized they didn’t have the firsthand experience needed to answer the question. Many considered hot and warm interchangeable; one student asked, ‘Hot is warm, right?’ I decided to be able to understand, they would need to experience it.”
Second-graders who commented were Serena Willis, who learned that in different places it’s hot, cold, and warm.
“Every place it looks different. Nowhere looks the same,” she said. “I also learned that in tropical places it is hot because it is near the equator and in mild places it is warm and hot, and in desert climates it’s hot but dry. In polar climates it’s freezing because it is far from the equator.”
Garrett Malott learned the temperature of mild, polar, temperate and tropical.
“I also learned the tropical zone is the hottest of all and the polar zone is the coldest of all,” he said.
Raegan Hoffman learned that there are different climates in different places like temperate, tropical, polar, desert, and mild.
“Polar is a cold climate,” she said. “Desert is a hot, hot climate! Temperate is a warm climate. Mild is not too hot and not too cold.”
Working in the polar zone, kids wore polar gloves before placing their hands in an ice bath to simulate how polar animals use their blubber to keep warm in a polar climate. In the tropical zone, students felt a humid heat wave created by Artondale office manager Cheri Floyd as they recorded record high temperatures and observed leafy green foliage. The temperate zone let them take note of wild animals and moderate temperatures in the paper forest that appeared overnight in the school’s library.
“I learned that it can rain in the hottest place in the whole entire world, which would be the tropical zone,” declared Cooper Hougham. Classmate Elijah Smith learned “where and what the climate is around the Earth, how weather forms and why it rains in the tropical climate where it is very, very hot. And I learned how a thermometer works and the temperature in different places.”
Verdella Keenan said staff members sponsored different climate zones in their work areas. The principal’s office was the polar zone.
“I told the kids, ‘I hope this is the only time I ever have to send you to the principal’s office,’” she said.
Students looked for clues while reading thermometers, touched the ice bath with and without a polar bear glove, and felt the heat and humidity of a man-made tropical zone. They returned to their classrooms and used their evidence to give recommendations for warm places to hike in the forest.
When it was all done, they asked Verdella Keenan, “Can we do it again?”
“It makes me happy to know that they had fun and they learned along the way,” she said. “Their scores went from 50 percent correct to 90 percent correct.”
There is hope for our nation’s future!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.