Hambright Elementary School teacher Katie Lutz has been certified as a National Geographic Educator, thanks, in part, to a project that she and her fifth-graders completed to better understand the natural world around their school.
Called “The World in My Backyard,” the project uses virtual reality technology to tell the story of the wetlands, farmland and wooded areas surrounding Hambright.
With the assistance of Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Dr. Carol Welch, students identified medicinal plants, berries, cattails, mockingbirds, yellow warblers and other species in what Lutz calls the “small, immediate wilderness” around the school.
Students kept journals of their discoveries and made detailed, colorful renderings of the birds, trees and flowers they encountered, along with opossum bones, fox tracks, grapevines and other evidence of life quietly coexisting just outside their walls.
Lancaster County environmental educator Ann Strauss led field studies to help students understand the biodiversity of the wetlands and neighboring playing fields, and Manor Middle School eighth-graders helped the students conduct soil tests on samples brought back to the classroom.
Manor Township Public Works Director Mark Harris visited the classroom to explain how a nearby composting farm turns leaves into nutrient-rich compost and to explain “best practices” in soil management.
Penn Manor High School students helped the fifth-graders document what they had discovered through photography, videography and video editing, and the district’s technology staff assisted Lutz and her students in creating the virtual tour using Google Tour Creator software.
The finished product — truly a collaborative effort — can be seen here.
“The World in My Backyard” was the capstone project that led to Lutz’s certification as a National Geographic Educator. An explanation of the project can be seen here.
Lutz also participated in a National Geographic workshop on inspiring students to learn how the world works – and how they can make it a better place.
The organization’s Learning Framework focuses on the human journey, our changing planet, wildlife, curiosity, responsibility, observation, problem-solving, collaboration and communication. Lutz had to implement these elements into her teaching.
Completing the certification “reinvigorated my energy and focus around supporting student inquiry and exploration through hands-on learning,” Lutz said.
The “World in My Backyard” project gave her students “a renewed sense of interest and wonder in the natural world,” she said.
“When we began this inquiry, I had several students who had no idea what a pine cone was. Now, some of those same students are able to identify the red-winged blackbird by its call,” Lutz said.
“I hope my students take away a renewed appreciation of our natural environment, an identity as scientists and explorers, and a commitment to environmental stewardship to protect the species and areas that we studied.”