Trunks containing a treasure trove of educational materials were on display for a group of educators during a workshop at Lone Pine Thursday.
The educational trunks contained a range of step-by-step lesson plans, activities and materials on environmental and cultural subjects relevant to Montana.
The ones presented were just a sampling of 40 trunks available locally that are loaned out to educators. Educators include classroom teachers, home-school teachers, youth group leaders, or anyone whose job entails teaching others according to Cynthia Ingelfinger, assistant conservationist with the Flathead Conservation District.
The trunk program covers a variety of topics in American Indian art and culture, birds, climate change, fire ecology, forestry, history, plants, winter safety, water and wildlife.
Members of the Flathead Community of Resource Educators (CORE) oversee the program. Flathead CORE is a network of organizations and professionals who want to “increase awareness and understanding about the natural, historical and cultural resources of the Flathead region,” by connecting them with different activities, materials and training.
Dozens more educational trunks are also available from organizations outside the valley including the Museum of the Rockies, Montana Historical Society and Montana Natural History Center.
Carolan Coughlin, is a youth program manager for Montana Conservation Corps and trains youth leaders who come in from around the country and said she would use the educational trunks to help familiarize them with the Flathead.
“It’s expert knowledge distilled down. That expert might not always be able to come out and talk to your group, but the box has all the materials and the instructions and the lessons,” Coughlin said.
Different activities tap into different senses — visual, tactile, auditory and physical — and are geared for different grade levels from kindergarten through 12th, according to Teresa Wenum, a conservation education specialist with the Flathead National Forest.
A student may be dressing up as a bird, performing the life cycle of a mosquito, identifying animal skulls, measuring bioaccumulation or dissecting pellets as part of the lessons.
Denny Olson, a conservation educator with the Flathead Audubon Society, helped workshop participants find their “water address” as an example of an activity in the “Riparian Wetlands: Birds and the River” trunk.
The activity helps students understand the interconnectedness of water — from its start in a sink in a Kalispell house, to the water treatment plant on Airport Road, then Ashley Creek and the Flathead River — eventually making its way to the Pacific Ocean.
“We want kids to be geographically aware of where they are and the fact that they are connected to everything else by water, and those are riparian systems they are connected to,” Olson said.
He showed several maps to use as teaching tools.
He then placed transparencies over the map that defined political systems, parks and roads.
“You can see that changes the picture considerably doesn’t it. When you look at roads and communities, national parks and national forests, it reminds us all when you are upstream and downstream from other people you have a responsibility to keep that water clean,” Olson said.
Some of the trunks come with experts who may join a group to present or help out with instruction. And some of the activities are to help teach skills to children in preparation for an outdoor activity or field trip.
“You can take what you learned in the classroom and apply it outdoors,” Wenum said.
Holiday Madich, a Somers Middle School science and history teacher, uses the trunks regularly to accompany her curriculum.
“People have done a lot of the research that I don’t have time to do as a classroom teacher,” Madich said about the experts who put the trunks together.
She recently used an educational trunk on invasive plants. Once she finished the lessons her students went out into the field to talk about plant adaptation and created field guides.
“I think the trunks are wonderful because at any age the hands-on activities really sink in the concepts,” Madich said, noting that students are empowered to extend their understanding outside the classroom. “They’re just great, meaningful activities and they’re local.”
She later added, “We live in the greatest outdoor lab there is. And so I’m very grateful that these resources are available so we can really take advantage of it in a meaningful way.”
The majority of trunks are on loan at no charge, but some do have fees.
For more information visit www.flatheadcore.org. Click on the “resource” tab to find contact information to reserve the educational trunks.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.