Tag Archives: outdoor classroom

Controlled Rot: Growing Mushrooms at MacLeish

27 Apr

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” goes the proverbial phrase used to encourage making the best of what one has. At the MacLeish Field Station we have lots of forest that provides much shade. So why not grow food that does not require full sun—such as mushrooms? In April, eight students spent an afternoon inoculating logs with both blue oyster and shitake mushroom spawn. Their work was part of an agroforestry demonstration project being established this year at the Field Station.

Alexandra Davis ’18 and Lilly Williams ’18 drill logs in preparation for inoculation.

Inoculating logs is relatively simple. Holes drilled into recently cut logs are filled with mushroom spawn and then sealed with cheese wax.

Tracy Rompich ’21 inoculates logs with shitake spawn.

Tess Abbot ’20 and Molly Peek ’18 seal the spawn in the logs with cheese wax.

After being labeled, the logs are all stacked in the shadiest part of the forest. Over the 12 months the fungi will grow and spread throughout the logs, becoming well established, and hopefully begin fruiting mushrooms that we can harvest next summer!

Preparing hot chocolate for all the volunteers on the beautiful spring day are,
from left, Lily Williams, Molly Peek, Alexandra Davis, and Diana Umana ’19.

The Final Day- Sharing the Lessons

19 Jan

Okay, you’ve all learned about what a carbon footprint is; you can see your footprints in the snow…who made these prints?”
“It’s a BEAR!”
“No, it’s a mongoose!”

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The crowd of rowdy sixth graders under our supervision exploded into peals of laughter that rang about the young woods. We were attempting to identify animal tracks, keeping in line with the footprint theme of our lesson plans. Another dozen students were taking their turns exploring the Bechtel Environmental classroom; the composting toilets were hard to tear them away from.

This past week, 16 Smithies have been braving sub zero temperatures up at the MacLeish Field Station in Whately, Massachusetts for the Interterm course, Interpreting the New England Landscape. We trooped through ice encrusted snow each day, learning the trails, about the history of the property, the engineering of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, and winter ecology.

Spending the day sharing this information with the campus school sixth graders really established a sense of community and connection with the landscape that had been building all week.

-Lily Carlise-Reske, ’17


Prior to Monday, the last time I had set foot onto the MacLeish Field Station grounds I was a nervous first-year with a poorly packed backpack preparing to spend my first night of college sleeping in a tent with strangers. The Bechtel Environmental Classroom was nothing more than a concrete foundation. It’s amazing how much changes in three years time.

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Our class this week was made special by the breathtaking view from our meeting table in the Classroom, the company and camaraderie we shared as a class, and the learning that was experienced both firsthand and witnessed with our 6th graders this morning. The process of walking through the crunchy woods identifying tracks, trees, sounds, smells and tastes with the intent of sharing our knowledge created an incredible sense of responsibility that motivated my own learning throughout the week.

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My favorite moment of the week took place on Thursday morning in the middle of the frozen vernal pool. While chiseling through two inches of ice under the enthusiastic guidance of Paul Wetzel, I heard and felt a chilling CRACK that reverberated directly below me to the edges of the pool. My heart stopped and a shiver went down my spine. Everyone around me jumped. Our collective instinctual reactions were a startling reminder of how wild we are underneath it all.

-Anne Ames, ’15


The only other time I have ever been to MacLeish was second semester my first year, for an environmental perspectives class.  I remember first walking into the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and immediately being struck by the beauty of the space with its natural lighting seeping through the 3 sets of windows and the amazing vista in front of the main classroom table. I’ve always been aware of the necessity and amazing benefits of being in such a setting, but having the unique experience to be in such an environment in an integrated academic setting was truly inspirational.

Slightly contrary to this, was my experience at MacLeish this week.  Although this class mimicked the experience of taking part in an academic class in the same setting, with the same natural light and aesthetic beauty I remember from last time, my experience was a deeper one.  Because this class was based around building a working knowledge of the field station and classroom, and gaining a working knowledge of the space, I was able to enjoy being in a space of the classroom I could now interpret in a language appropriate for the living building, as well as better understand why the space was so beautiful to me.

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During this week at the classroom we learned about the ‘7 petals’, or ways in which the classroom incorporates aspects of sustainable and ethical standards of living into the building, construction and use of the living building as a whole. These standards, overseen by the International Living Future Institute, surprisingly and incredibly have only been met by five buildings in the world, of which Smith is the most recently certified. While inside the classroom after our morning hikes or other outside activities, seeing the way these ‘petals’ were used in the environment of the classroom, was an amazing experience.  One of my favorite times of day throughout the week was simply having lunch or spending transitional times inside the main room of the classroom.  It wonderful to essentially be in a space created to enjoy these simple and necessary pleasures of existing in an environment in which being in the moment helps one better connect to their natural surroundings in a way that wakes the imagination like no other.  It’s amazing what natural beauty can do!

-Blythe Coleman-Mumford, ’17

Notes From the Field Station: MacLeish as a Classroom Resource

27 Jan

Although geographically isolated from Smith’s main campus, the MacLeish Field Station is routinely visited by a variety of classes and departments looking to enhance their learning experience through practical application, exploration, and inspiration. Since its dedication in 2008, accessibility and awareness of the field station have steadily increased, resulting in more classes utilizing this space from a greater breadth of disciplines. Although for many colleges and universities a field station is focused primarily on the natural sciences, MacLeish has attracted and facilitated a large variety of classes, ranging from statistics to choreography.

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This past semester Plant Ecology (BIO 364) and MTH 245 (Introduction to Practice of Statistics) paired up to design and execute experiments or observational studies investigating a species or plant community of interest commonly found at the field station. Students visited the field station independently and during class time to implement, monitor, and gather data. Ultimately, students from both classes increased competency in the topic of the supporting class, improving the quality of the end product and their overall class experience.

This fall the field station also became a muse and canvas for architecture (ARS 386: Topics in Architecture), landscape studies (LSS 250: Landscape and Narrative), and dance classes (DAN 521: Choreography and the Creative Process). Working with the existing site conditions through site visits and research, architecture and landscape studies students were able to design structures and landscapes that embraced the surrounding environment with practical implications for the future development of the field station (the work of these two classes in addressed in more detail here).

Originally purchased by Smith in the 1970s as an observatory site for the astronomy department, the MacLeish observatory is still routinely used by astronomy classes today (AST 102: Sky and Time. AST 103: Sky and Telescopes, AST 111: Introduction to Astronomy) in addition to the McConnell rooftop observatory. Future plans for development of the field station include clearing areas around the observatory to further improve the capabilities of this resource.

Students in the Environmental Science and Policy class ENV 201 (Environmental Integration II: Collecting and Analyzing Information), were able to directly apply the techniques and information gained in class to surveys and experiments conducted at the field station. Students constructed pit-fall traps to sample local insect biodiversity and practiced plant species inventories using different methods such as quadrat, belt transect, and point-quarter centered sampling.

Lastly, Introduction to Archaeology (ARC 135) applied field methods and analytical techniques to investigate, reconstruct, and learn about the past culture of New England through material remains such as stone walls, building foundations, and lead and zinc mines. MacLeish even served as the site of a National Archeology Day celebration for the AIA Western Massachusetts Society, Whately Historical Society, and students from Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges!

It is obvious that the addition of the new Bechtel Environmental Classroom (BEC) to the field station will only act to increase the use of MacLeish for academic, leisure, and recreational pursuits. Through supplying necessities like lab and seminar spaces, in addition to the pure conveniences of bathrooms and a place to hide from the rain, the BEC will drastically improve and expand the potential of this facility as an multi-faceted resource for the Smith community.

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

This map shows the faculty research plots of Jesse Bellemare, Drew Guswa, and Paul Wetzel.

Notes From the Field Station: Student Involvement in MacLeish Site Design

15 Jan

The design work of a recent Smith alumn, Corey Eilhardt (’09), has been selected for implementation at the MacLeish Field Station in conjunction with the Bechtel Environmental Classroom project.

Corey Eilhardt's final pavilion model

Corey was an architecture major who designed an open-airpavilion for the field station intended to “build upon Smith College’s liberal arts system” and “include all areas of academic study.” Her design will be used as a conceptual model and modified with the help of a current senior architecture student in order to fit the existing needs of the site. Corey will work closely with the student through skype, email, and other methods in order to flesh out details of the project such as material selection and any necessary modifications. For example, the central chimney from the original design will be shifted against one wall and the elaborate furniture will be exchanged for a more flexible multi-use space. Although not intended for this specific location, the unique slanting roof of Corey’s design is perfectly suited for capturing views of the Holyoke Range.

The pavilion will be constructed this summer, after the completion of the BEC, on a small area to the northeast of the building. It will be surrounded by an edible forest garden to be designed by stride student Elena Baum (’14).

-Jessa Finch

CEEDS MacLeish Intern