An ambitious collaborative program between Citizens for Conservation and Barrington District 220 brought approximately 700 fourth-graders to three local prairies this fall as part of the Prairie Preservation unit of the district's fourth-grade science curriculum.
The program, in its fourth year, involved the coordination of scores of volunteers from Citizens for Conservation, Friends of Spring Creek Forest Preserves, and parent volunteers.
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The fourth-graders were citizen scientists as they hiked, created drawings and took measurements of native plants, studied the effects of this year's drought, and did the important work of collecting seed for prairie preservation during field trips to the prairie nearest their school -- CFC's Grigsby Prairie and Flint Creek Savanna and the prairie at Crabtree Nature Center.
"The drought made the weeks of planning for the program more complicated this year," said Sam Oliver, CFC staff director. "In fact, the gravel hill prairie where we usually take two schools was so dry that it didn't set seed and we had to scout around for a different, third prairie. Because the students had done measuring of the tall prairie plants during the first three years of the program and the district had good records, the many differences brought about by the drought were easily incorporated into the field experiences."
An advance team of speakers from Citizens for Conservation made visits to the students' schools to help them prepare for their roles as citizens scientists and their day on the prairie, where they helped collect seed of big bluestem, Indian grass and compass plant. The seed will be used in a number of major prairie restorations in the greater Barrington area.
Thank you notes from the fourth-graders indicate that the opportunity for students to engage in the authentic work of "doing science" in Barrington's distinctive prairie environment and connecting more with the natural world is enjoyable, educational and memorable.
For the first time this year, and as a response to students' requests in previous years of the program, the citizen scientists were each given a packet of native Indian grass seed to plant in their home landscapes.
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