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Photos, day trips enhance love of nature

Geese are in full formation as they begin their fall migration south. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

Have you ever taken a fall trip to a wildlife refuge? October is a great time to witness waterfowl migration.

In the fall of 2005 we studied giant Canada geese as part of our "Nature's Success Stories" unit. The fifth grade science book didn't cover the subject so we pulled information from magazines, library books, and Internet sites. The Yukon Delta Marsh in Alaska even sent us curriculum materials.

Our wildlife and environmental topics always included four areas: the traditional classroom lessons, a hands-on activity, a presentation by an expert, and a community partnership.

For our goose study, the community partnerships would be tied to the hands-on activities. The Mantrap Valley Conservation Club and parent volunteers helped the fifth graders build goose-nesting platforms and our local DNR wildlife personnel let students assist them in capturing and banding Canada geese.

Greg Henderson from our DNR wildlife office was the expert for this unit and he came into the classroom to speak about geese.

I wanted to present the lessons of this unit from the viewpoint of a wildlife photographer instead of that of a teacher. One of my first statements was, "Much of what we have learned about geese and other wildlife species has come from the patience and dedication of photographers." If you have ever watched a National Geographic nature special you know what I mean.

I wanted to provide a camera for each of my students and give them the opportunity to become wildlife photographers with our resident flock of Canada geese, but due to lack of equipment, we borrowed the handful of cameras the media center had and formed a small after-school photo group instead.

The entire class, however, was involved in making a video about our goose study and it was aired on Lakeland Television's "Through the Lens" program. We compiled footage of each step throughout the unit and the students even took part in the narration.

It might have been an unusual way to teach a science topic, but the class's test results indicated a 21 percent increase over the previous chapter test.

As part of the footage for the video I drove to Lac qui Parle wildlife refuge in west central Minnesota. While the refuge was surrounded by goose hunters waiting for migrating geese to come and go, I drove past them to the refuge headquarters. I was given the key to a gated area on the refuge where the only weapon I could carry was my camera.

Being surrounded by 60,000 geese, the noise was deafening. I was as excited as a kid at Disney World and as I filmed this small part of the annual fall migration I couldn't help thinking that I wished my class was with me.

Take a day to visit one of our many wildlife refuges. Tamarac, Agassiz, and Lac qui Parle are just a few.

Bring a young person along to experience the sights and sounds that fall migration has to offer.