On one of the first days of his mountain ecology science class at the Blue Ridge School, Cory Woods asked his students how many different trees they think they’d pass walking between two specific points on the campus of this private boys’ school near Charlottesville, Va.
After students made guesses in the range of 12 to 15 trees, Woods was able to show the class, with help from materials previous classes had documented on Plants Map, that the number was easily north of 50.
“So often students just walk across in a blur,” Woods said. “It was cool just to take a couple of class periods just to think about what’s out there.”
Thinking about what’s out there—as opposed to just experiencing greenery and plants as background scenery to “real life”—is increasingly a goal of teachers in the environmental sciences, as they work to mold future stewards of the natural world.
It’s a major goal of several teachers who have used Plants Map with their classes as a teaching tool.
Woods’s classes at the Blue Ridge School have used Plants Map’s interactive signs and tags to label trees along an interpretive trail on the school’s wooded campus. Woods is currently working with students to label more trees on the school’s front lawn.
The process of tree identification helps establish an awareness, he says, that over time builds a sense of ownership and care for the environment among students.
“The first step in stewardship is simply observing nature, and paying attention to it and realizing it’s there in the first place,” Woods said. “This creates a good format to begin that process and get the kids really involved, other than just me showing them slides of different trees.”
In New York’s scenic Hudson Valley, Taras Ferencevych has had a similar experience at the Storm King School.
Photo courtesy of The Storm King School.
The school dates to 1867. With its location on the side of Storm King Mountain, overlooking the Hudson River nestled between Storm King State Park and Black Rock Forest, a private nature preserve, conservation and tree-planting are deeply embedded in the campus culture.
When it came time to put some labels on the trees that abound on campus, Ferencevych stumbled upon Plants Map through an online search.
He liked the fact that Plants Map doesn’t just sell plant tags—it provides a platform where a school or other organization can create and organize profiles for every plant they own.
QR codes on the tags link anyone with a smartphone to that trove of information from the field, and users can find plants they’re looking for or plants near them, providing many avenues to connect people with plants.
At the Storm King School, Ferencevych says new trees that are planted on campus now get Plants Map tags. At a private school that relies to a large degree on fundraising, the online profiles provide a new way to recognize donors, and Ferencevych sees a lot of potential for finding new ways to get students involved in documenting plant life on campus in the years to come.
At the Blue Ridge School, Woods points out that using Plants Map’s website to document trees has the added bonus of reaching some students through their fascination with technology, and is a way to combine that fascination with time spent outdoors.
More than two dozen schools, colleges and universities have established profiles on Plants Map, and the ways those schools are using the site to engage their students in the natural world are diverse.
At the college level, environmental science Professor Carol Manahan uses the site to help art school students see the beauty of the botanical world.
The University of the District of Columbia uses Plants Map to document its efforts to help feed an increasingly urban world.
What links all of these projects is the value these educational institutions place on teaching young people to value the natural world.
“There’s an aesthetic value of nature, but also a community of it,” Ferencevych says. “It connects us to a bigger world.”