A Peek Inside The Classroom: Cass Arsenault, Lead Naturalist at Johnson Nature Center

On a cold Monday in March at the Johnson Nature Center, Lead Naturalist Cass Arsenault (familiarly known to students as just “Cass”), worked with Conant 3rd graders from Mr. Hamlin’s class on their full-day field trip to learn about maple sugaring, along with how people lived in the 1800’s in Michigan.

After a morning of learning how maple sugar tree sap is made into syrup, Cass taught them how early settlers washed their hands with homemade soap; how to roll cookie dough to make delicious maple sugar cookies; how to analyze a piece of Indigenous art using Project Zero’s Thinking Routine: Looking: Ten Times Two; how to play early settler children’s games; how to make and use tools; and how to do daily chores like carrying logs. They also learned how Indigenous groups of Anishinaabeg moved from the east coast to the midwest, and about the primary source of the Treaty of Detroit which pushed Anishinaabeg people to Kansas and Oklahoma. Throughout all this learning, Cass engaged the students by asking questions. When whittling down a piece of wood with the drawing horse tool, students were asked what shape they were making (a cylinder). When showing children the drawing knife, Cass asked what can happen to that knife after lots of use (rust or dullness). 

The biggest takeaway of the day, though, was a lesson in collaboration. In the Anishinaabeg art piece, students noticed that the people in the painting were working together to make the maple syrup. Cass referenced this teamwork throughout the day. When a group of three students worked together to use a bow saw to cut off a bit of wood to create kindling, students erupted in cheers. When a group of four students were trying to lift a log with log tongs, Cass reminded them to communicate well, to walk in the same direction. When students were trying to work the well pump to generate groundwater, they needed at least two people to get it to function. Students could be heard throughout the day stating the mantra, “team work makes the dream work!” Cass Arsenault provides BHS students with lessons not only in nature and history, but in how working together improves life for all, in any era.


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