Monday, November 2, 2009

Environmental Sentinels

Curious about what we've been doing?

Primitive Pursuits instructors Jed Jordan and Tim Drake have been teaching a class alongside Jason Hamilton, at Ithaca College, as part of the Environmental Science department. Below is an article written about that class.


Environmental Sentinels - Casler & Woods

Ithaca College’s Environmental Sentinels class is taking learning out of the classroom and connecting students with their natural surroundings.

Combining modern ecological science with outdoor skills, Environmental Sentinels requires students to spend large portions of class time outside developing a connection with the environment.

Tim Drake, one of three class instructors, says the class is “geared to create a population of people who have a really broad base of natural knowledge and an awareness of [environmental] change and patterns.”

Environmental Sentinels is co-taught by Drake, Jed Jordan and Jason Hamliton.

Spending class time outside, learning skills such as identifying trees, tracking animals and recognizing the medicinal properties of common plants students put ecological science into practice and further understand the relevance of different plants, animals and organisms.

(Above: Environmtal Sentinels practice their tracking skills)

Drake says being outside also allows students to connect with the environment on an emotional level, which is an important factor in addressing environmental issues like global warming.

“The average person knows that you’re supposed to care about global warming, and knows that you’re supposed to recycle and knows a lot of things but doesn’t necessarily always act on it because there’s not an emotional connection to it,” Drake said.

“One way to try to figure out how to deal with these large societal issues is to try to reconnect people with the natural world. So people can see how it is that our life, even this modern lifestyle is still reliant on natural systems,” said Associate Professor Jason Hamilton.

(Above: Jed Jordan and Tim Drake discussing tree identification. Jordan demonstrating a technique to dig up roots.)

The course syllabus describes an environmental sentinel as a citizen and member of the community, who will be able to notice changes start, understand what is causing the changes, and be able to participate in developing solutions.

Environmental Science freshman, Stephen Norton, says the class provides the knowledge to understand and be aware of change in the environment. “I think having the education to do something about our impacts on the environment will be really important in the upcoming years.”

Environmental Studies freshman, Arika Morin says the class is different to her other classes and the lessons give her the skills and awareness to feel more comfortable outside.

“I really enjoy going outside because it’s more hands on than sitting in class. I think I learn more if I go out and see things first hand,” Morin said.

The class has also changed the way students view the natural world, sophomore Sofia Johnson said, “I look at it more holistically. Everything that’s in nature is there for a reason.”

When Environmental Sentinels isn’t outside students give group presentations. A “clan” of four to six students will stand in front of that class and discuss trees and how they are connected to their habitat. Clan presentations include the tree’s connections to earth, sun, birds, the moon, the stars, the four winds and the universe. The exercise is designed to “acknowledge and give gratitude for all aspects of life,” said Jordan.

(Above: Tim Drake and Sofia Johnson shoveling walnut husks into a tub of water for tie-dying shirts.)

The class is a marriage between outdoor skills and college level biology.

“There’s no place which is doing an experiment like this,” said Hailton. “There’s no place that’s trying to merge these two worlds together in the way that we’re trying to bring them together.”

The class was first offered last year as an elective, but due to the enlargement of the Environmental Studies major into its own department, Environmental Sentinels is now a required class for Environmental Studies and Environmental Science majors.

“I think in the end it’s a pretty inspirational class to be a part of and that’s what is reflected back,” said Tim Drake.

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