Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hosting the Wolverine Pathways Scholars: A New Generation of Environmental Stewards

By Benjamin Tupper

Matthaei-Nichols children’s education intern Ben Tupper writes about our participation in the summer Wolverine Pathways program. It was an amazing and collaborative learning experience for everyone, he says, and it offered the opportunity to design, implement, and reality-test a program that will help kids connect the theme of stewardship to their own lives.

Summer is a busy time for everyone at Matthaei-Nichols and the Children’s Education department is no exception. Transitioning from school-year to summer programs, we fervently prepared for the arrival of the Wolverine Pathways Scholars. This groundbreaking new program is the brainchild of U-M associate professor Robert Jagers. The pathways moniker is apt: schoolkids who complete the program and are accepted at U-M get full-tuition, four-year scholarships.

At Matthaei-Nichols the education department works with schoolchildren and young students year-round, both leading and designing hands-on learning experiences that also bring in projects-based pedagogies. Our team spent the better part of two months this summer building a program that would take advantage of our incredible site and knowledgeable staff to scaffold a collaborative educational experience that is both relevant and connected to youths’ lives.

Wolverine Pathways Scholars take a photo opp break from
their lab session at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
What we have to offer makes so much sense, given the goals and the direction of the Wolverine Pathways program, says Matthaei-Nichols director Bob Grese. “The opportunity for us to participate in Wolverine Pathways fits squarely within our Nature Education Initiative to bring diverse, underserved audiences to Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and provide them with exciting opportunities to learn about nature and environmental stewardship,” he explains. The four-day program held at Matthaei was a learning experience for everyone. For the scholars, it was an opportunity to explore a new area, learn about stewardship, and contemplate the importance of becoming environmental stewards in their own locale. For staff and interns, it was an opportunity to see a design in action, work with new people, and to be a part of something that has the potential to impact hundreds of youth from the local area.

Notebooks, cameras, collection nets, and clipboards at the ready for
the Pathways Scholars. This summer,over 200 Southfield and Ypsilanti
school-district childrenvisited Matthae Botanical Gardens for an intensive
4-day session in which they went out into the field to collect samples of
and from Fleming Creek. After, the students analyzed the water
to determine the creek's healh. The students also participated
in other activities conducted by student interns and staff at Matthaei,
such as building mason bee houses in the Children's Garden or eco-
conservation---pulling invasive plants, for example.

What Is Wolverine Pathways?
Dr. Robert Jagers, a developmental psychologist at the U-M  School of Education, designed the Wolverine Pathways program, which launched in January 2016. A major goal of Pathways is to give young people early opportunities that will help them see possibilities and cultivate their fullest potential. It also gives the kids a sense of what it’s like to be a U-M student. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel has called the Wolverine Pathways program an “important step for the University of Michigan as we continue to look for ways to identify talented students and cultivate U-M applicants from all parts of our state.”

Wolverine Pathways was designed to provide young people with learning opportunities that embrace the best that liberal arts can give, according to Pathways program coordinator Dana Davidson. “Kids get a chance to connect with graduate students, undergrads, and faculty who can give them guidance about what the U-M experience is and how they can connect with the wider world.” And, she adds, “It will help young people see that college is a good choice for them, and that it’s possible, too.”Wolverine Pathways:

•  Is free and currently open to students who live within the Ypsilanti and Southfield public school districts.
•  Features hands-on and project-based learning activities that extend and integrate core English-language arts, math, and science content.
•  Offers a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to students who complete the program, apply to the University of Michigan, and are accepted.
For more information on how you can contribute to our Nature Education Initiative, contact Matthaei-Nichols Director of Development Gayle Steiner: 734.647.7847; gayles@umich.edu.

The first round of scholars arrived on Monday morning, July 18. Day one, 8th-grade youth from the Ypsilanti school district headed out to Fleming Creek, got their feet wet and their hands dirty, and determined creek health based on what species of macro-invertebrates they found. While groups conducted surveys in the creek, others were busy working on chemical tests looking for things like dissolved oxygen, nitrates, and phosphates. While the 8th graders were busy in the creek, the 11th graders worked with Matthaei-Nichols staff on service-learning projects of the terrestrial type. After a quick lunch and respite from the heat of the day the scholars were back at it. The 8th graders crunched numbers, analyzed data, and made determinations of creek health based on their morning findings. The 11th graders headed out to the display gardens, learning about interpretation techniques and how to convey information to the public. With day 1 complete, the scholars headed home and the staff frantically prepared for the next day.

During the second day of the program the scholars swapped roles. After another hot morning out collecting data and conducting field service work, the youth began work on their final projects. Using information they gathered on their visit to Matthaei the students developed stewardship-themed posters that they presented to their peers and to staff. The poster session was a huge success and the kids enjoyed an opportunity to share their innovative, creative, and entertaining projects. Days 3 and 4 of the program ran very much the same as the first, except with Southfield school district students and double the number of kids from days one and two!

Note from Ben: I want to thank everyone involved with this program. Our children’s education coordinator Liz Glynn was a guiding light, and my fellow intern Sam Pilon also helped put the program together. It was wonderful to see so many enthusiastic Matthaei-Nichols staff participating and giving their precious time and energy to make a lasting impact on youth. To everyone who helped plan, implement, and participate, thank you!

What We Learned
The four-day Wolverine Pathways program proved to be a learning experience for everyone. The student scholars explored a new area, learned about stewardship, and contemplated the importance of becoming environmental stewards in their own locale. For staff and interns, it was an opportunity to see a design in action, to work with new people, and to be a part of an initiative that has the potential to impact hundreds of youth from the local area.

What’s Next

Moving forward, we’d like to get student participants’ insights to help us better understand their experience of the program. It would be also be interesting to study the design process and to gain insights into the intended, taught, and learned curriculum. This will help us in the future with the design and implementation but perhaps most important, it will help us discover what the students actually learn, whether we intended those lessons or not. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mason Bee Houses in the Gaffield Children’s Garden

By Hannah Smith

The Gaffield Children’s Garden is a wonderful place that provides a variety of hands-on environmental education experiences for children. One of the goals of the garden is to spark an interest in nature with kids and inspire them to beceome the future stewards of our planet.

A recent project in the garden was the transformation of the former butterfly garden into a pollinator garden, with a focus on native pollinators such as mason bees. Mason bees will also benefit the Grower’s Garden section of the Gaffield as they are great pollinators of food crops.

The habitats that the Wolverine Pathways
 students built for the Gaffield.
The tunnels are different heights
and sizes to allow multiple sizes
of bees to make their homes there.
For nature-based learning, mason bees provide the perfect starting point: they are solitary, non-stinging, non-swarming, and they prefer to seek out and live in habitats built and provided by humans. Their houses are small and easy to build, low maintenance, and easy to get up close to and watch since the bees are so friendly.

We decided that having mason bee habitats in the children’s garden would be beneficial both for the plants and for the educational opportunity that these bees offer. Since the houses are easy to build and a great learning tool, we thought of ways that visitors could incorporate them into their own lives outside of the children’s garden. I designed two activities. The first was with the Wolverine Pathways Scholars who visited Matthaei in July. For the Scholars’ visit we built mason bee habitats to install in the Gaffield. The other activity was created for Things with Wings, our annual family festival that celebrates winged creatures. For Things with Wings kids built their own houses to put in their gardens at home. (Two reason why, if you saw me any time in July, I probably had a bucket of bamboo in hand!)

To build the houses, we cut bamboo into 4- to 8-inch pieces (special thank you to everyone who helped me cut and hollow out bamboo pieces) and tied groups of them together with wire and twine. These bamboo tunnels are where the mason bees lay their eggs. As the bees go about setting up their households, you can watch them collect nectar, leaves, mud, and other materials from the garden and fill their individual tunnels with them. Many of the interns attended the field trip in July at Michigan State University, where one of the gardens housed a “Wild Bee Hotel” built by MSU hort staff.

I noticed as I worked with younger kids in Things with Wings, and then older students in Wolverine Pathways, that many understand what happens in plants during the pollination process. They also were aware that pollinators are good things, but at the same time weren’t so keen on the idea of having tons of bees flying around. Both the younger and older kids were interested to learn that these bees are very friendly, and after discussing the real importance of pollination the students seemed to be more enthusiastic about pollinators as a whole—and that having pollinators around doesn’t necessarily mean getting stung.

Helping kids build their houses
at Things With Wings.
As we assemnbled theme we
focused on explaining how
the habitats work and why
they are important.
The mason bee houses will be installed in the Gaffield around April 2017 when the bees’ working season begins and visitors will be able to watch this amazing process take place. Our hope is that the presence of the bee houses in the children’s garden will offer something new that kids may not have learned or experienced before, spark some interest or excitement about it, and inspire them to be stewards of native pollinators in their own lives. My hope is that providing an activity at Things with Wings, where kids built bee houses to install in their own gardens, will allow them to watch the process in their own backyards and get interested and inspired.

A mason bee pokes its head out of the end of its home.

The “Wild Bee Hotel” in action at
Michigan State Botanic Gardens.
They shared with us that they have
over thirty species that visit their
hotel in a day – I’d love to see
something to this extent in our
garden eventually!

Incorporating mason bee houses into your garden is an easy way to watch and learn about pollination. Providing habitats for our native bees makes it easier for them to do their jobs, and it helps the plants immensely. And it’s a bonus that the mason bees and their miniature houses also make a cute beautiful and visually striking addition to any garden!

Hannah Smith, from Northville, Michigan, is entering her senior year majoring in Program in the Environment and minoring in sustainability with a specialization in environmental policy. Hannah is working as an intern in the Gaffield Children’s Garden.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Student Open House

On Sunday, August 7th, parents and donors enjoyed an afternoon of celebrating the hard work of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum summer student interns. The program began with a luncheon, including a slide show of summer photos and short presentations by interns Sam Pilon and Zach Gizicki, and donor Jeff Post. Following lunch, interns scattered throughout the display gardens to show off their summer projects, which range from visitor services, maintenance, restoration, and more! The afternoon also included a brief performance by intern Jared Aslakson, who is a competitive and professional bagpiper. We thank our summer student interns for all of their help in continuing our mission of developing leaders and encouraging people to care about nature and enrich life on earth.

Below are some photographs of interns and their parents, bagpiping intern Jared Aslakson, interns posing with their posters, and a few beauty shots of Matthaei in its late-summer glory.
Matthaei-Nichols Membership program hosted the Student Open House Luncheon
Sam Pilon, intern, speaking about her summer internship experiences at the Student Open House Luncheon
Zach Gizicki, intern, speaking about his work as the Julie Norris Post Heathdale Intern
Jeff Post, donor, speaking about the importance of the Julie Norris Post Heathdale collection to him and his family 
Bob Grese, Director, interacting with Doug Ham, intern, and his fiancee
Stevia Morawski, intern, presenting her poster
Staff and students discussing poster presentations
Enjoying the Gateway Garden
Interns, parents, and staff interacting
Sam Pilon, intern
Hannah Smith, intern
John Bradtke, intern, presenting his poster
Relaxing in the Commons
Katie Hammond, intern, posing for a photo during a game of croquet, while Jared Aslakson heads to the Great Lakes Gardens for his bagpipe performance
Gateway Garden
Adrienne O'Brien, staff, and Tom Porter, donor, chatting on the Terrace
Gateway Garden fountain
Jared Aslakson, intern, performing bagpipes in the Great Lakes Gardens