New Teacher Guide Highlights Key Georgia Habitat—Sandhills

SOCIAL CIRCLE, GA

The sandhill habitats of Georgia’s Coastal Plain are home to many rare species of plants and animals. To highlight this important landscape and its inhabitants, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and partners have released the “Teacher Guide to Georgia Sandhills.”

 

Sponsored by The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, friends of DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section, and the Walmart Foundation, this instructional resource available at georgiawildlife.com/SandhillsTeacherGuide was developed by DNR biologists and interpretive staff, as well as teachers and environmental educators.

Sandhills are upland, land-locked dune habitats with sandy soil and sloping terrain. They resemble sand dunes at the beach but with trees and other vegetation. Although these landscapes came about in various ways, many were formed millions of years ago. Sandhills along the Fall Line, a geological boundary that separates Georgia’s Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions, are evidence of the Atlantic Ocean’s ancient coastline, dating to the late Cretaceous Period. Riverine sandhills formed when strong winds blew sand from exposed river bottoms onto the banks during the Pleistocene era.

Longleaf pine, turkey oak and wiregrass are common in sandhills, but unique plants like sandhill rosemary, scarlet wild basil and pitcherplants also grow there. The open canopy and herb-filled undergrowth provide prime habitat for many rare species such as gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes, gopher frogs and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Fire plays a vital role in the health of sandhill ecosystems. Frequent low-intensity fire, whether sparked naturally by lightning or through controlled burns set by land managers, releases stored nutrients into the otherwise deficient soil. Many sandhill plants rely on fire to reduce sun and nutrient competition from woody plants, as well as to promote flowering and seed germination.

DNR project coordinator Linda May hopes teachers will find the new curriculum guide interesting and useful.

“Although Georgia’s sandhill habitats may at first seem dry and desolate, they’re really hotspots for biodiversity,” May explained. “We created this guide to fill a need for place-based teaching materials about Georgia’s Coastal Plain, as well as to further conservation for this important landscape.

“Educators can play a key role in increasing awareness and fostering appreciation for sandhills and the amazing life there.”

The guide is divided into three sections: Sandhill Ecosystem Overview, Wildlife of the Sandhills and Plants of the Sandhills. Although lessons are geared for third and fourth grades, they can be modified for other grade levels and settings. Several activities are also well suited for distance learning.

Teachers familiar with Project WILD curricula may enjoy the similar format of this guide. Lessons are adapted from Project WILD activities and include instructional objectives, correlations to the Georgia Standards of Excellence for Science, background information, materials list and step-by-step procedures. Assessment options, activity variations and extensions round out each lesson plan.

Activities are arranged by complexity, allowing students to gain a foundational understanding before advancing to more detailed concepts. For example, teachers can introduce students to the wonders of a sandhill habitat by taking them on a simulated field trip in “Sandhill Retreat.” Students can then navigate an obstacle course in “Tortoise Troubles,” which demonstrates natural and human-caused hazards affecting gopher tortoises. By creating art in “Sandhill Plants Adaptation Artistry,” students learn about the unusual features of sandhill plants that aid in their survival.

Other features of the guide include wildlife fact sheets, ecoregion maps, coloring pages and a glossary.

Learn more and download a copy at georgiawildlife.com/SandhillsTeacherGuide. Questions or comments? Please contact Linda May at linda.may@dnr.ga.gov or (706) 319-0211. 

Funding for the Teacher Guide to Georgia Sandhills was provided by the Walmart Foundation, a 501c3 foundation that operates on donations from Walmart. Philanthropy supports programs that complement Walmart’s environmental sustainability initiatives. Learn more at walmart.org.

Further funding for the guide was provided by The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, a 501c3 nonprofit and friends group of DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section. TERN provides financial support for the section and its projects. Members receive a newsletter and opportunities to take part in wildlife field trips and projects. For details, visit tern.homestead.com or facebook.com/TheEnvironmentalResourcesNetwork.

DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section conserves wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats such as sandhills (georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport). The agency does this work largely through support from fundraisers, grants and contributions. Key fundraisers include sales and renewals of the eagle and new monarch license plates. Supporters also can donate online. Learn more at georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates and georgiawildlife.com/donations.

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