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Harbison State Forest programs

Formal programs | Informal programs

Formal programs correlated to state academic standards

SCFC teaches students about fire

We offer hands-on, engaging, and fun learning experiences in-person at Harbison State Forest, virtually, and on-demand! All programs have been written to address South Carolina 2021 Science Standards. Programs include a pre-visit activity that prepare students to get the most out of their visit to the forest.  Our programs teach students how to think, not what to think, and follow the AKCA model for environmental education: Awareness, Knowledge, Challenge & Action.  


These FREE programs are offered at the Harbison State Forest Education Center. Programs can be modified to reach other specific learning objectives. Picnic tables are available for lunch but there are no on-site dining facilities.  Students will need to bring bagged lunches and refillable water bottles. Programs are totally outside, so closed-toed shoes and appropriate clothing is recommended. We are a staff of two and can see a maximum of 50 students per day (25 students per instructor). Schools must bring enough adults (teachers included) to achieve a 1:7 adult to student ratio. The program lasts around 3.5 hours and generally follows the below schedule.

9:15 – Arrive

9:30-9:45 – Welcome and Introductions

9:45-10:30 – Forest Hike

10:30-11:00 – Lunch

11:00-12:30 – Classes rotate through learning stations

12:45 – Depart

SCFC education

All programs will take place out of the Harbison State Forest Environmental Education Center which is located at 5600 Broad River Road, Columbia, SC 29212. To reach the Education Center, continue past the first parking lot and bear left through the wooden gate onto a gravel road. Take the first right (at the closed metal gate) onto another gravel road. The Education Center is a log cabin building at the top of the hill on the left. There is ample parking directly in front of the Education Center.

Directional Map to HSF Education Center

For more information, or to reserve your school’s date and time, please contact Environmental Education Coordinator Matt Schnabel at mschnabel@scfc.gov or (803) 896-8892.

Program descriptions

First Grade

Program 1: Lifecycles, Growth, & Survival of Forest Organisms
1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
1-LS1-2. Obtain information from multiple sources to determine patterns in parent and offspring behavior that help offspring survive.
1-LS3-1. Make observations to support an evidence-based claim that most young are like, but not exactly like, their parents.

Students will learn how plants survive and how they respond to changes in their environment. They will observe and compare trees at different stages of life and act out the life cycle of a tree. By modeling the parts of a tree and creating a “tree factory,” students will learn about the structure of a tree and how those structures help a tree survive. Students will observe, measure, record data, and draw conclusions about what they have learned. 

Second Grade

Kids measure tree diameter.

Program 1: Diversity of Life in Diverse Forests
2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.
2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare patterns of diversity within different habitats.

Students will discover and describe different forms of life in two different forest ecosystems, compare data, then conclude what factors influence both abundance and lack of diversity. They will explain the value of having a diversity of life forms in a particular ecosystem. Students will learn about different seed dispersal methods for different species and environments then design and build new seeds that use varied dispersal methods.

Program 2: Earth’s Natural Systems and Humans’ Role
2-PS1-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.
2-ESS1-1. Use information from several sources to provide evidence that Earth events can occur rapidly or slowly.
2-ESS2-1. Compare multiple solutions designed to slow or prevent wind or water from changing the shape of the land.
2-ESS3-1. Design solutions to address human impacts on natural resources in the local environment.

Students will identify successional stages in ecosystems based on the plant and animal species present. They will investigate the properties of Earth’s natural processes and learn about ways that natural resources can be conserved. Students will study the soils in a forest habitat to learn about its composition and structure. They will learn how trees benefit our environment and society and how we can help conserve natural resources through a fun soil erosion mitigation activity.

Third Grade

Program 1: Effects of Habitat Changes
3-LS1-1. Develop and use models to describe how organisms change in predictable patterns during their unique and diverse life cycles.
3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can thrive, struggle to survive, or fail to survive.
3-LS4-4. Make a claim about the effectiveness of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and affects organisms living there.

Students will examine the life cycle of trees and how plants and animals respond when their habitats change. They will become trees in a forest and learn how trees are affected by competition for resources and by natural or human-caused events. They will learn how changes are sometimes beneficial and sometimes harmful and synthesize a solution to mitigate the effects of a negative change to a forest community.

Matt teaches about tree cookies.

Program 2: Inheritance & Variation of Traits
3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have inherited traits that vary within a group of similar organisms.
3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
3-LS4-2. Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in traits among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving and producing offspring.

Students will examine the variation of traits of living organisms in different forest environments and how the different plants and animals are adapted to those environments. They will examine cross-sections of trees, infer from a tree’s rings what environmental conditions it might have experienced, and how environmental conditions affect traits. They will discover how variation of the trait of protective coloration is important in a population as they pretend to be birds on the hunt for colored bugs to eat.

Fourth Grade

Program: Trees: Structure, Function, and Benefits for Society
4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function together in a system to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
4-ESS3-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Students will learn about different parts and structure of a tree and then create a model of a tree to understand how it functions. They will describe how plants affect the movement of water in a watershed and how water can cause erosion problems. Then, students will design a solution to the soil erosion problem, help build a model with erosion mitigation elements, then test their model’s effectiveness at reducing soil erosion.

Fifth Grade

Program: Ecosystem interactions
5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.
5-LS1-1. Support an argument with evidence that plants obtain materials they need for growth mainly from air and water.
5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

Students will learn about the flow of energy through the biotic components of ecosystems including producers, consumers, and decomposers. They will model how elements in the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere interact to sustain life. Students will experience first-hand how a tree population reacts to growth factors by becoming part of a forest. By collecting and plotting data on a coordinate system and then looking for trends, students will see how limiting growth factors can affect an ecosystem.

Sixth Grade

Program: Water Wonders
6-PS1-4. Develop and use a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.
6-ESS2-4. Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

Students will model various steps of the water cycle and make connections between the water cycle and all living things. They will work in teams to collect, analyze, and interpret data from an aquatic ecosystem in a forest. They will then summarize and communicate their conclusions about the living and non-living components and how the plants and animals are adapted to that ecosystem. Students will get to use tools to collect information on species diversity, temperature, diameter, wind speed, and soil characteristics.

Seventh Grade

Program 1: Population Dynamics and Energy Flow
7-LS1-6. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.
7-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
7-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.

Students will learn how the forests are dynamic and are ever-changing in response to natural and human-caused events. Students will model food webs to show how energy flows through an ecosystem. They will also learn how human and naturally-caused limiting factors can affect a forest through a hands-on simulation. They will be collecting, organizing, and graphing data that will be analyzed to draw conclusions about the effects of resource availability on a forest community.

Program 2: Forest Biodiversity and Community Structure
7-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
7-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Students will develop and use models to describe the characteristics of the levels of organization within forest ecosystems. They will collect data and make observations on how fire has played a role in developing each ecological level in two different forest ecosystems. Students will determine what forest management techniques are most beneficial to sustain species biodiversity.

Eighth Grade

Program: Environment and Genetics: Factors for Success or Failure in a Forest Community
8-LS1-5. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
8-LS4-4. Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individual’s probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
8-LS4-6. Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

Students will examine and describe variations of traits in a tree population and determine what traits are favorable for growth and reproduction. They will model how trees compete to meet their essential needs and how the variation of traits plays a part in success. Students will describe how physical traits and limiting abiotic and biotic factors in a tree population can affect a population.

High school

SCFC education

Programs are tailored to the needs and learning objectives of the specific class and teacher.  Typical classes that use Harbison State Forest for field laboratory exercises include Biology I, Environmental Studies, AP Environmental Science, and Agricultural Science classes studying forestry.

Informal programs (home-school groups, day camps)

These FREE programs will be offered at the Harbison State Forest Environmental Education Center. Programs can be modified to reach other specific learning objectives. Programs typically start at 10 a.m. and end by 12 p.m. The first hour will consist of a forest hike, and in the second hour students will participate in hands-on Project Learning Tree, Project WET and Project WILD activities. Picnic tables are available for lunch afterwards, but there are no on-site dining facilities. We require a minimum of 10 students to participate and can see a maximum of 50 students in one day. Groups must bring enough adults to achieve a 1:7 adult to student ratio. For more information, or to reserve your group’s date and time, please contact, please contact Environmental Education Coordinator Matt Schnabel at mschnabel@scfc.gov or (803) 896-8892.

Program descriptions

K–Second grade

Program 1: Tree growth
Students will be learn how trees grow and obtain the natural resources needed to survive in the forest. They will age tree cookies (cross sections of a tree) by counting growth rings and will create their own life as a tree cookie. Students will all become a living part of tree to learn its function as well as act out the lifecycle of a tree.

Program 2: Using your senses in the forest
Students will learn how living organisms use their five senses to survive in the forest. They will play a game to explore how birds communicate through song. Students will also become beetles that communicate through their sense of smell to discover the use of pheromones.

Third–fifth grade

Program 1: Forest ecology
Students will learn about forest ecology and ecosystem interactions. They will become a biotic organism in a food web to learn about the flow of energy in a forest ecosystem. Students will examine a rotting log to investigate the importance of decomposers.

Program 2: Animal adaptations in the forest
Students will explore how animals have adapted to live in their preferred habitat types. They will partake in a game called “Birds and Worms” to learn about the importance of camouflage with predator and prey relationships. Students will partake in an activity to explore how prey organisms also change their behavior to avoid detection in the forest.

Sixth–eighth grade

Program 1: Survival in the forest
Students will learn how plants and animals survive in the forest. They will participate in an activity called “Every Tree for Itself” where they will become trees that must collect the basic resources needed to survive. Students will also become deer that need to acquire the four habitat components needed in a forest ecosystem.

Program 2: Fire in the forest
Students will learn about the benefits of prescribed fire in a managed forest. They will get to explore how wildfires are different than controlled burns and can be very destructive in a “Fire Tag” game. They will also compete in a challenge to build the best campfire while discovering how fuels burn in the forest.

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