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Jennings outdoor lab used by many classes PDF Print E-mail
Monday, April 22, 2013 1:03 PM

Sixth-grader Connor Hoersten, left, and Junior Craig Stewart help get the blades of a wind turbine ready for installation at Fort Jennings’ land lab as Chad Recker and Brian Hoersten work on the pole that will support the blades. (Delphos Herald/Stacy Taff)



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FORT JENNINGS — Almost two years ago, Fort Jennings broke ground on its outdoor science lab and classroom which has since become an integral part of learning for its students.

On a regular basis, an average of six science classes use the lab for practical lessons. Science teacher Jeff Jostpille says other classes find uses for it as well.

“My eighth-grade science class did a plant study using wheat, where they were divided into six groups and had all different kinds of soil additives to test growth and germination, height and things like that,” he said. “It’s been very useful, especially in the fall and spring. You can’t do much in the winter. Now we’re just getting fired up for next fall, doing things this spring so we’ll have stuff growing when school starts up in the fall.

“Elementary teachers have done different projects out there to show plant growth. Our math department did a study on sunflowers,” he continued. “There’s a specific number in mathematics that’s associated with how a sunflower is arranged, seed and petal-wise that’s always consistent, so they planted a bunch of different sunflowers to show that. Our art classes have been making some projects for out there as well.”

The unique atmosphere of the outdoor lab and classroom provides the students with a new learning perspective.

“Even in small towns, a lot of people are getting very removed from what our ancestors did to get food,” Jostpille said. “Most have never seen a potato grow; they don’t necessarily even know they’re grown underground. They get to see how you set up the scientific method, how to measure, how picky you need to be and how diligent you have to be in collecting data. In a lab kit, everything is spelled out for you. When you go outside, there are so many more variables.”

Since the initial planting of the garden and trees, the students have been focusing on taking care of it before beginning larger, more intensive projects.

“The last couple years, we’ve just been refining the landscape of it, getting the garden beds going and keeping track of our trees, which was big with the drought last year. We planted over a hundred trees and we only lost three, even with the big storms we had,” Jostpille said. “We did put in a new concrete drive out of the building to the sidewalk to back things out with the golf cart. That was donated by Menke Bros. Construction and K&L Ready Mix, which was very nice.”

Starting Saturday, Fort Jennings forged on with newer, more exciting endeavors.

“A bunch of community members helped us put up the wind turbine, get the solar panels hooked up and plumbed the big water tank to the pump,” Jostpille said. “Those three things will connect as a unit to pump the 1,000 gallon tank to water the garden beds. Once we get into the energy mode, there are all kinds of things we can do and keep track of.

“We’ll get a close look at something that’s talked about a lot today,” he went on. “They’ll see how much you can produce for free, that energy doesn’t have to cost $3.50 at the gas station. We bought the parts for a distillation chamber and eventually we’ll be able to take biofuel and create ethanol out of it. We’ll be able to take two different plants and see which creates more fuel.”

Included in future projects will be a berry garden, a rain garden to collect and filter run-off from the solar panels, and a manure study in partnership with the city of Ottawa and Bowling Green State University (BGSU).

“Ottawa is partnering with BGSU and they’re going to work with all nine schools in the county to help with data collecting for testing water and soil samples,” Jostpille said. “We’ve got an incubator for just that purpose. They will come and provide the materials for us through a grant and we’ll be collecting the data that Ottawa is using to treat manure, which is from dairy farms up in Continental. Who knows, maybe next fall we’ll even be growing some things out here, testing them with all the things they want information on.”

Jostpille says the outdoor lab and classroom has given Fort Jennings students a chance to step up and assume responsibility and develop as individuals.

“I’ve got three students from last year’s class that are taking independent study,” he said. “In the spring and fall they’re out there and I leave them alone. They’ve taken charge of keeping the shed in order, watering the trees and charging the golf cart. It gives them a sense of ownership. The students were the ones who put this whole thing together.

“Another thing is that some of them have shown us skills we never would’ve known they had. Some have jobs we never knew about. One of my 8th grade boys is in charge of the golf cart because that’s what he does at home. He takes care of putting a volt meter on it, charging the batteries and servicing it. How would we have known about that otherwise?”

Jostpille and the rest of the Fort Jennings family are excited about what opportunities the future may bring.

“It’s changing every day,” he said. “We never know what’s coming or what we could use it for. It’s become such a cliche, the words ‘hands-on’, but typically that’s what you’re doing out there. Unfortunately you have to go back inside after 40 minutes and another class goes out but you get outside and you get to do something.”


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