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Au Sable Receives Grant to Build Outdoor Teaching Shelters

Sep 17, 2013

The Au Sable Institute Environmental Education Program has received a grant for $21,000 to build five outdoor teaching shelters at its lake, pond, bog, and forest ecosystems and achieve one of its top programmatic goals: to have students’ entire learning experience at Au Sable be outdoors.  

Environmental Education Program Coordinator Paul Wiemerslage says, “One of our top goals was to eliminate any time spent indoors while students and teachers are at Au Sable to maximize students’ engagement with the natural world around them. Outdoor teaching shelters make it possible for us to do just that by creating spaces for us to do activities or teaching we would normally need to do indoors.”

Outdoor teaching shelters include a pond shelter next to Louie’s Pond, a bog shelter next to the Beaver Pond (see draft above on right), a bird blind along the Au Sable forest edge, a lake shelter on Big Twin Lake, and a forest shelter within the Au Sable mixed-hardwood forest. In addition to eliminating indoor instruction, these five shelters will allow Au Sable instructors to better facilitate station learning, where groups of students can move from one shelter to the next with an instructor to learn particular lessons at ecosystems across Au Sable's 120-acre grounds; seamlessly move between outdoor, hands-on instruction and focused, sheltered instruction where students can draw, write, or identify organisms; provide relief from the elements and unpredictable weather; and create new opportunities for students to observe wildlife without distributing it. 

Teaching shelters will also have special, built-in features to enhance student learning. Pond and lake shelters will have table space for students to observe aquatic organisms under microscopes; the bog shelter will have a tracking box, a sandy space in the middle of the shelter where instructors can simulate specific tracks, strides, and gaits of various animals that frequent the area; and the bird blind will conceal students from shy birds and include a wooden writing surface for students to record precise observations. 

Says Wiemerslage, “Research shows that one memorable, childhood experience in nature can influence a person’s attitude towards the environment for the rest of their life. We strive to create these experiences through our Environmental Education Program and teaching shelters will go a long way towards helping us create these experiences for our students, particularly because we can do all of our instruction in an outdoor setting.”

The Environmental Education Program will not be the only Au Sable program to use the teaching shelters. Professors from the College Program will be able to take advantage of the teaching shelters for giving lectures or lab exercises, and retreat groups will be able to use them for gathering spaces.

Au Sable Executive Director, Fred Van Dyke, says, "Outdoor teaching shelters add a new dimension to our campus grounds and a new opportunity for teaching about the natural world.  Au Sable has always strived for life-changing field experiences for our students, and new teaching shelters, located at strategic positions around our campus, give us a wealth of new options for doing so."

Au Sable will begin construction on the new teaching shelters in fall.