North Star Academy students learn about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness created a curriculum for sixth through 12th grade students.
Lucy Erickson and Hannah Rosendahl, both 11, inspected an animal skull to figure out what it could be.
“I know what that one is,” Lucy said, pointing at the next table over. “You can tell by the teeth.”
The skull she pointed at had four big, orange teeth. It was a beaver, but Lucy and Hannah were still stumped on what animal their skull was from. Lucy’s first guess was a rabbit.
“My mom taught me something. If it looks like the eyes are on the side, it's probably a prey,” Lucy said.
The two North Star Academy sixth graders were learning about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the animals that live there. They compared the teeth on their skull to the teeth shown on paper, and decided their skull was from an omnivore and ruled out that it was a rabbit. Next, they took measurements of the skull with a ruler and compared them to a list of omnivores and their skull measurements.
“It’s a raccoon,” Lucy said.
Turns out, it wasn’t. Lucy and Hannah realized they forgot to measure the skull with the jaw attached. Once they put the skull back together and took measurements for a second time, they determined the skull was a red fox.
This exercise of identifying animal skulls was part of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness’s education program “Animal Adaptations in the BWCAW: Skull Investigation.” Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Education Director Alison Nyenhuis visited North Star Academy to give this presentation to several classes.
Away from cabins and homes, wildfires rejuvenate forest
Father, daughter make epic trip across BWCAW
Boundary Waters becomes Minnesota’s first 'Dark Sky Sanctuary'
The presentation started with an introduction to the Boundary Waters and followed along with a weeklong trip two people took through the wilderness.
The sixth graders asked Nyenhuis many questions on topics ranging from the different types of animals that live there, to how people can carry everything they need on their backs, to what happens if someone gets lost.
While many people know the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness from the group’s advocacy against copper-nickel mining, the group does a lot more, Nyenhuis said. Its mission is to “protect, preserve and restore the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico-Superior ecosystem,” and a big part of that is educating and connecting middle and high school students, she said.
“When I visit schools where I asked if anyone has heard of (the Boundary Waters), maybe one or two people raise their hands,” Nyenhuis said. “I oftentimes in those classes ask if students have heard of Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon and places that are farther away from them, and a lot of them have heard of those. So I think it's really great to bring awareness to students about what's in their own state.”
The "No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters" education program was funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness created a curriculum for sixth through 12th grade students.
Nyenhuis said the curriculum is free for all teachers. They just have to sign up at friends-bwca.org/outdoor-education/classroom-materials and request information.
Emily Nelson, a teacher at North Star Academy, said the program has been great for the students.
“The kids love it,” she said. “Even the kids who have a hard time concentrating are really engaging with it and it’s just great to see.”