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Effective classroom teaching moves outdoors

Steve Maanum1 / 2
Spying on wood ducks through a mini camera are, from left, students Sarah Bugge, Katie Weiss, Tesla Hurlburt, operating the camera, and Jordan Fisher with Park Rapids science instructor Kevin Young. (Steve Maanum for the Enterprise)2 / 2

Kevin Young's classroom has the typical four walls, but it also has blue skies and a gentle autumn breeze. He's a Park Rapids teacher who knows the value of combining traditional classroom learning with hands-on experiences.

Recently I accompanied his forest management class to the Brush Lake school forest. It was fun for me to see some of his students who had been my former fifth graders. In the years between then and now they had grown up while I had just grown older.

I could have softened that by saying I had not grown older, I had just grown more mature, but then, that might be debatable. This is only my fourth column; much too soon to be stretching the truth.

When Mr. Young's students were fifth graders, we built bluebird houses and established a bluebird trail at Century School. Now in high school, while those students study forest management and the wildlife species that inhabit the Brush Lake ecosystem, one of the activities involved starting a wood duck nesting box trail.

The Minnesota Wood Duck Society recommends placing nesting boxes on poles or posts with predator guards attached underneath the nesting box. Placing them in trees makes it too easy for predators, such as raccoons, to raid the nest.

If you've had that problem, you might consider switching to a metal pole or wooden post with a predator guard. Even though we are months away from the nesting season, the frost hasn't settled in yet so it's much easier to drive a pole in the ground now than it will be in March or early April. This is also a good time to clean out your boxes.

Squirrels may have already filled them with leaves. That might be acceptable to you, but in order to have my boxes ready for wood ducks next spring, I plug the holes in the off-season to keep the squirrels out. Some people choose to leave the side door open for the same reason.

Forest management has a lot to do with the welfare of wood ducks and other wildlife species. As a result of the aggressive logging practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s, nesting areas disappeared.

At that time man-made nesting boxes had not been introduced so wood ducks relied on nesting in hollow trees. Due to habitat destruction and market hunting, wood duck populations dropped so low that by 1918 they became a protected species. The hunting season for wood ducks stayed closed until the 1940s. Man-made nesting boxes were introduced in 1930's and forests and logging practices evolved into the management plans of today.

Go to www.woodduck to learn more about wood ducks and check out our (Where's Woody Science Quest) to see wood duck photos and video clips.

If you decide to move your wood duck boxes or clean them out, have your kids help you. It's another great and easy way to connect them to nature.

You can contact me with your comments or suggestions at sdmaanum@