A little outdoor education is just the thing to ignite learning in students as the year comes to a close. On May 11, FWCD seventh-graders traveled to Bear Creek Ranch, owned by the Dixon Water Foundation, to participate in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department-hosted activities related to the ecology of prairie systems. Seventh-Grade Science Teacher Jimmy Brockway attended a conference there last summer, and one of the many perks for attending is the ability to host field days to promote outdoor education. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also came to the FWCD campus last fall to also to facilitate a Quail Necropsy with ninth-graders.
Bear Creek Ranch, a 2,100 acre ranch located in Parker County southeast of Weatherford, is a holistic ranch. Its grazing methods restored the tall-grass prairie and riparian forest. In May 2014, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department honored Bear Creek with a Lone Star Land Steward Award. Dixon Water Foundation promotes healthy watersheds through sustainable land management to ensure that future generations have the water resources they need. The ranch also hosts many educational programs, including wildflower tours and Prairie Protector school field trips.
The goal of FWCD’s Prairie Day is to provide hands-on-activities that connect with students’ learning about the ecology of prairie systems. They focused on plant and animal diversity, indicator species groundwater and runoff, as well as food chains and organisms’ dependence on one another. Specific activities included:
Nature Walk – Devoted to the importance of biodiversity in an ecosystem
Rainfall Simulator – Highlighted the types of systems that are best for clean groundwater; plant roots decrease runoff from rainwater runoff
Stream Trailer – Tarrant Regional Water District hosted a stream trailer and discussed how water changes the landscape over time; importance of plant roots for erosion control
Quail CSI – Students learned about nest predators of quail; adaptations of organisms in prairies
Terrestrial Insect Sweep – Students collected insects in a prairie using nets and talked about the importance of biodiversity in an ecosystem, as well as protein and moisture percentage that insects provide quail
Radio Telemetry – Used when animals are tagged to help biologists learn about animal habitat, how they move, where they nest, etc.
Run for Your Life – Predator (hawks and cat) /Prey (quail) relationships and factors that affect them
For Brockway, the Quail CSI activity was a favorite. “Students first have to identify areas that nests could be loaded,” he said. “Then, they have to apply what they have learned about a destroyed nest, analyze the site for clues and distinguish which of the many predators might have broken the eggs, taken the eggs to eat later, or eaten the eggs right there in the nest.”
The Steam Trailer also was fun. “Students got to see how the water actually molded into a stream with meanders over time,” said Seventh-Grade Science Teacher Christine Spikes. “They were also able to see how erosion changes the size and shape of the stream.”
These outdoor, hands-on learning activities are a cornerstone of the FWCD education. “Students understand and retain information better when they have a real experience in an outdoor environment,” Brockway said.
Now in its 11th year, Prairie Day started with trips to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), but has evolved in recent years. In 2014-15, seventh-graders split their time between the FWCD Prairie on campus on the hill by the Upper School parking lot and the BRIT. Last year, the students went to Jackie and James Rains’ ranch and the BRIT. “The varied experiences give students a chance to learn in different environments,” Brockway said. “Being able to see how concepts in the classroom translate to an outdoor education experience can be profound.”