A project that fourth-grade teacher Jane Weiland created at Woodland Intermediate School in Gurnee not only teaches her students local history, but also educates visitors at four area forest preserves.
Jane Weiland, Woodland Intermediate School teacher. – Courtesy of Jane Weiland
Weiland started an after-school program, or intramural, to help students learn about history and local landmarks. The fourth- and fifth-graders studied important areas in the Lake County Forest Preserves and then created displays that are temporarily installed on the landscape to share their knowledge with others.
“This engaging program exceeded all my expectations,” Weiland said.
There were two aspects behind starting the project. Weiland is part of the Teacher Ambassador Program, an initiative run by the Lake County Forest Preserves. The program provides opportunities for Lake County educators to connect with local history and environmental education-based resources and staff. It allows teachers to increase their inquiry-based teaching skills and connections to local resources and content.
Weiland is also part of the Teacher Leadership Endorsement Program at National Louis University with a similar mission to connect teachers with history. She wanted to show that project-based learning is a teaching method that enhances how students learn.
Bonner Heritage Farm was one of four Lake County locations that students studied as part of the Teacher Ambassador Program. – Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserve District
“It is a teaching technique in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem or challenge,” Weiland said.
To implement the program, Weiland met regularly with Nicole Stocker, museum educator at the Dunn Museum, operated by the Lake County Forest Preserves. Stocker suggested the students focus on four local landmarks: Adlai E. Stevenson Historic Home in Mettawa; Bonner Heritage Farm in Lindenhurst; Fort Sheridan in Lake Forest and Rollins Savanna in Grayslake.
Kyla Rein participated with a group of students to create temporary signs at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. – Courtesy of the Rein family
About 40 students and seven teachers split into four groups to research the landmarks last spring. Most of the work was done via Zoom due to restrictions resulting from the pandemic.
“We wanted to create an experience that was authentic and engaging,” said Weiland, who is in her 22nd year of teaching.
Students chose interesting facts and history about the landmarks to include on display panels that were placed at the four forest preserves.
“It is great that others can now learn more about the important sites,” Stocker said.
An example of a fact included on one panel is that “Fort Sheridan treated more than 2,000 patients during the Great Flu Epidemic in 1918.” Another is that “in 1842, William and Margaret Bonner settled in Bonner Farm because of the many hickory and oak trees. Those trees would provide the wood to be used for William’s carpentry business.” The students translated the Bonner Farm set of panels into Spanish as well.
Stocker met with the student work groups several times.
“They were so enthusiastic, had wonderful questions, and put together such creative panels,” she said. The Teacher Ambassador Program is funded by a grant from the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves, she added.
Esperanza Rubio, a dual language teacher at Woodland Intermediate School, assisted with the students at Bonner Heritage Farm. The signs there were translated into Spanish. – Courtesy of Esperanza Rubio
The intramural was held for five weeks and met twice a week for 45 minutes.
Stocker shared her expertise, offered feedback on projects and gave suggestions for organizing display panels. Some students chose to work independently on their panels; others chose to work in partners or small groups. At the end, all groups came together virtually to share and celebrate their work.
“The effort and quality of the projects are first-rate,” Weiland said. The panels were placed in the preserves earlier this summer.
Through a survey of participants, it was found that the program was “highly engaging for students because they were excited to learn about their landmarks, create their panels and share their work with the public.” The majority of the students said they would definitely participate in an intramural like this in the future, Weiland said.
“The teachers and the students that participated provided such positive feedback.”
Stocker agreed. “I hope the project inspires the students to continue to learn more about history and this area, and I hope their panels help to inspire and are enjoyed by visitors to the preserves as well.”
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.