Twenty West Fargo High School students just returned from nature’s outdoor classroom.

They wrapped their minds in environmental study, wading in aquatic life-bearing streams, observing effects of climate change beneath canopies of color-bursting leaves, learning about forest ecology and replicating early-day voyager and Ojibwe Indian life skills practiced more than 200 years ago.

The students, enrolled in West Fargo School District’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum, spent three days at Wolf Ridge Environmental Center.

The 2,000-acre campus 60 miles north of Duluth, near Finland, Minn., is bordered by the Baptism River and overlooks Lake Superior.

Biology teacher Susan Duffy described the experience as “learning as nature intended.”

The primarily outdoor setting provided interdisciplinary learning for the group of biology, English and world history students.

“It’s all draped in nature,” said English teacher Jenny Kruger. “They are not distracted by other people or by technology.”

The purpose of the early October trip was to provide students with authentic learning opportunities in nature and about the history of Wolf Rridge and surrounding area, Duffy said.

The schedule consisted of three, three-hour classes daily with a team-building activity in the evening.

The Adventure Ropes Course involved rope-walking 30 feet above ground while strapped in a harness, with a team partner offering positive encouragement from below.

“We learned a lot about working together,” said sophomore Amanda St. Aubin. “It was a good opportunity for all of us to create closer relationships.”

Students baked a cake using sun energy, studied area wildlife, plant and animal life cycles and several other environmental aspects.

“I was absolutely blown away with the amount of science that the students learned in the two days they were there,” said Duffy.

“They were exhausted when it was done,” said student teacher Sara Peterson.

Actually, the students are not done. Their assignment is to apply what they learned back home in West Fargo.

They will now embark on an engineering project to design, evaluate or refine a solution for reducing human impact on the environment and biodiversity.

History students will incorporate government and law when creating such solutions.

English students will create and publish a print and digital magazine detailing their results.

Sophomore Tanner Schmid’s group wants to install a trail camera along the Sheyenne River.

“We want to see if the Sheyenne River is healthy,” he said.

“I want to do something with climate change,” St. Aubin said. “It was interesting to see how things are changing so fast.”

She plans to study local trees and research leaf color change, whether it’s early or late based on climate impact.

Schmid liked the “hands-on” learning approach that Wolf Ridge provided.

“It’s not just watching a video and taking notes,” he said. “It’s way cooler than just learning about it.”

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