Animals Save Greenpoint!

Learning about Wild Things in Greenpoint, with the Green STEM Afterschool Students

During the fall unit of the Eco-Schools Green STEM Afterschool Club at PS 31, our class of 4th and 5th graders learned about Greenpoint’s wildlife and environmental history.  In order to immerse ourselves in Greenpoint’s landscapes and imagine the historical ecology and geography of our community, the class adventured into the neighborhood and invited local experts to teach the class at every opportunity.  Thanks to these rich, place-based educational experiences, the afterschool class discovered so much about Greenpoint’s natural resources and wildlife!

Matthew Wills, a naturalist and photographer, joined us for our first field trip, a Neighborhood Nature Walk; during this neighborhood exploration, we slowed down and looked carefully to find evidence of nature and wildlife near our school.  After the walk, 4th grader Laila commented that she learned to pay more attention to the environment. Randy was excited to find a bird’s nest while carefully observing and looking in places we usually quickly pass by.  Another student really enjoyed being able to feel and smell the shells and deer antlers that the Mr. Wills brought in to the classroom.

We visited the Newtown Creek Nature Walk with local teacher Ranger Maddie for our second field trip. Most students loved seeing the creek, discovering the native plant species along the pathways, and learning that the goldenrod plant can be used as a natural dye for paint or fabric. Although many students live in the neighborhood, they had not known about Newtown Creek nor had seen it, so it was a special trip for the entire class!

The final field trip was to North Brooklyn’s Boat Club Ed Shed where students observed oysters, crabs, and other critters that live in the creek; we also learned how oysters are helping to clean the water. Following the Ed Shed trip, Lisa Bloodgood visited our class and talked to students about the history of pollution in Greenpoint, its impact on the environment, and how it’s being cleaned up.  Without even being advised, students began taking notes on their own and recording the really interesting facts about their school’s neighborhood.

Excited and energized by all of this fascinating new information we discovered about Greenpoint, the class decided to create a story about it…but not just any story, we wanted to act out a play through the eyes of the wildlife that have lived in Greenpoint throughout history. To do this, we had to practice storytelling and become comfortable performing in front of each other.  Many students were shy at first, afraid to act out as an animal, but over the course of the unit, students gradually opened up and the stories became alive.  We invited Ranger Maddie to come in and facilitate improvisation activities and practice what it looks and feels like to be one of the wildlife species that has lived in Greenpoint, currently or in the past– a happy duck, a deer, or a dolphin.  Laila remarked, “it was hard for me to do improv but I had FUN!”. Arianna said she learned “how to use emotions to tell a story”.   Students created a book of stories about Newtown Creek over time told from the perspective of an animal beginning in the 1600’s pre-colonial era, to the industrial era, and to the present and future. Then, the class came up with an overall skit and shared it out at the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Green STEM Student Summit.  Check out our photos, we had a lot of fun!