Students teaching students

Photo by Jolene Guzman // Students in Connie Olliff’s third-grade class climb through trees in Dallas City Park during Lyle’s outdoor school.

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Jolene Guzman
November 5th, 2013

DALLAS — Red leaves, yellow leaves, flat leaves, thin leaves — plus a few insects and birds — were the stars of Lyle Elementary School’s third-grade outdoor school Thursday.

The half-day session is a partnership between Lyle and Western Oregon University’s College of Education, in which WOU pre-education students teach the youngsters about nature in the fall.

Thursday’s chilly, but mostly dry day in Dallas City Park was the first of three science sessions WOU students will lead at Lyle this year. This winter, the topic will be engineering and in the spring the students will be back outside to study nature in bloom.

Third-grade teacher Connie Olliff said the science lessons are just part of the WOU-Lyle partnership. Student teachers also will lead social studies lessons this year. Olliff said the partnership is helping fill a void in the elementary school’s curriculum, as well as giving WOU students real-world teaching experience.

“It’s gives them some needed practice and it’s something different for our kids, something they look forward to,” Olliff said. “It’s a way to get more science and social studies in the curriculum.”

Lyle third-graders weren’t the only students discovering something new.

Adele Schepige, a WOU science education professor who was supervising Thursday, said the exchange was the first time some of the aspiring teachers had worked with children in an educational setting.

“This is one way to get them out, working with kids in a non-threatening way, so they can get a feel for teaching,” Schepige said. “And it’s a way to get Lyle kids outside and experience the outdoors for a while.”

Schepige’s students designed the lesson plan, which had the third-graders studying the changing seasons, plants and the different kinds of animals living in the park. After the session, they will evaluate how much the students learned and how they can make lessons better.

“This is a bonus for everyone. They get to plan it, the kids get to learn, and my students get to experience teaching,” Schepige said.

“I don’t expect all their lessons to be perfect, but with a group of them there, they help each other out. It’s good experience.”

And tons of fun, too, if you ask students from both schools.

“We are going to go over the anatomy of the leaf. You ready?” asked WOU senior Jasmine Etchevers to third-graders Katie Reimer, Grace Parry, Chloe Vajac, and Colin Conolly. They huddled around her in a small group session in which students picked a fascinating-looking leaf and learned its parts.

Etchevers pointed out the lobes, stems and veins of each leaf, explaining their function, while having the group draw their leaves and label the parts.

“It’s so much fun. I love it,” Etchevers said. “They have a lot of energy and sometimes I wish I could take their energy.”

As for the Lyle kids, it was a blast just to be outside.

“We get to look at nature and figure out stuff that we’ve never really discovered before,” Katie said.

“We get to be outside instead of doing math in class,” Chloe added, giggling.

Katie, Chloe, Grace and Colin excitedly list all that they had learned — about how the earth tilts on its axis, how some leaves are different from others, and how leave can turn a variety of colors in the fall.

So, what did they like learning about the most?

“I don’t know,” Grace said. “I kind of think it was all fun.”

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