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Students learn about environment hands-on

Kayla Strayer/Daily Globe Students walk into a life-sized whale blow-up during an environmental fair Wednesday at the Murray County Fairgrounds.1 / 2
Kayla Strayer/Daily Globe Stacy Hinz's sixth grade class takes a break at the environmental fair Wednesday at the Murray County Fairgrounds.2 / 2

SLAYTON -- Fifth and sixth grade students from all over southwest Minnesota got out of the classroom Wednesday and Thursday to learn about natural resources hands-on during the 21st annual Southwest Minnesota Association of Conservation Districts Environmental Fair at the Murray County Fairgrounds.

More than 1,000 students participated in activities such as walking in a life-sized whale, watching a native prairie burn, seeing zoo animals and playing water jeopardy.

The goal is have students learn about the environment by getting to see and touch what they are studying.

The fair was sponsored by the Southwest Minnesota Area V Employees Association and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD).

Topics covered included water quality, reptiles, wildlife, trees, native prairie, soils, recycling, watersheds, wetlands, fisheries and bird watching.

Groups present included the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.

"Environmental awareness seems to be coming into the forefront," said Mary Thompson of the Rock County SWCD. "The teachers really like it (because) they get to take the kids out of the classroom and learn hands-on."

One presenter, Science Museum of Minnesota educator Lukas Johnson, used cylinders of water to represent the water cycle in an interactive exhibit.

"I'm talking about ways we can conserve (water) and be more thoughtful in how we use it," Johnson said. "I'm bringing up ideas about how water is a limited resource."

He said it's a fun program for students, and they enjoy taking field trips.

"They're definitely learning, but we try to get them doing hands-on activities," Johnson said. "There's lots of physical and visual ways they can learn. We have demonstrations and different models to represent how much water we have on Earth, and we talk about where it goes."

Stacy Hinz, a sixth-grade teacher from Granite Falls, said not only did her students learn about the environment, but they also got to know each other better.

"It's important for the kids to understand the area in which they live," Hinz said. "We're studying Minnesota history all year in sixth grade, so we try to make connections outside of the classroom to make it more real to them."

She said her students take what they learn at the event and apply it to where they live.

"Anytime you get kids outside of the classroom they have a lot of fun," Hinz said. "It's a pretty good success if the same schools keep coming back each year."

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.