For Arthur Zheng, studying at Wasatch Academy meant more than just studying abroad. While in Utah, he has had the opportunity to study an ecological system completely different from what he knows in the cities of China. Arthur’s passion for discovery quickly led him to Dr. Joel Barnes, Director of Sustainability and Experiential Education. Together, they created an independent ecology project in which Arthur studies in depth the birds around campus.
Immersed in the natural world creates an understanding of ecosystems that exist in different biomes. To understand Mt. Pleasant’s unique biomes, Arthur has approached his research of local birds through photography. Using a professional quality camera and lens, Arthur captures multi-angle photos to assist him with identifying different species of birds. He then records the location and time of the information into a document with the photo.
“Taking photos of these amazing creatures is the best part. When people step into nature, they can explore many things that they never realized before. For example, the swallows are building their nest on the Reemtsma Math & Science building, and a robin family has moved into the tree in front of Pierce Historical Hall,” said Arthur. He continues, “There are actually deer eating the seeds in the bird feeder we installed! They knock the bird feeder with their heads and eat the seeds that drop on the ground.”
Arthur supports his research through the utilization of books such as Sibley Birds West, the National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America, and Trees of Western North America. “Textbooks and classroom experiences can only take you so far,” Dr. Barnes said. “By the end of this ecology project, Arthur will strengthen his knowledge of ecology and natural history of central Utah’s high desert and mountains. He also gains valuable field identification skills of the common plants and animals on our campus as he completes his research. ”
“It is these kinds of student-driven projects that transform our students’ learning to become more of a personal challenge and learning journey and less of a “what do I need to know to pass the test?” kind of experience. Project-based learning creates multiple “entry points” through which students experiment in terms of accessing course content and applying it in a real-world context,” states Dr. Barnes.
After completing his research next spring, Arthur hopes to put all his data into a guide that can be utilized by students, parents, and other visitors. “Through this project, Arthur is also learning how to effectively share his knowledge with others through a visually compelling format,” said Dr. Barnes.
For Arthur though, this project is a way for him to escape and enjoy something he loves. “This is my way of meditating. To go into nature and experience all of the wonders.”