Posted by: jwhiff | October 25, 2010

Our First Visit to the Inlet!

What a field trip!  Friday marked the official kick-off of the Inlet Classroom project, although I have been setting the kids up with some knowledge and skills for the past month and a half.  I wish that I had taken them out sooner, although there is no time like the present.

Our starting activity was to map the beach landscapes between Old Orchard Park and the the Old Mill Site.  The infamous mud, if you recall, is at the Old Mill Site.  Ruth thought it would be useful for the students to get oriented to the area by looking at various landmarks visible from the beach, as well.  As it turned out, we spent all morning observing the way the beach changed over the 500 meters or so between the sites.

I asked the students to write notes on all the ways the beach seemed to be different from one section to another.  Just as in the forest, many of the kids were too stimulated or too overwhelmed by the environment to even know where to start.  They wandered into the water in their rubber boots, stomped around in the mud and turned over rocks.  Not much note writing.  Unlike the forest experience, I was fortunate to have 7 or 8 parents huddled together off the beach, watching the proceedings.  So…like any teacher worth his or her salt, I sent them into midst of the students, and encouraged them to ask them about what they were noticing and to help them focus a little to record their findings.  It worked beautifully.

Over the next two hours, we walked through sticky dark mud filled with broken shells, meandering creeks from the forest, sloping sandy areas, and areas of compact clay.  The students noticed all kinds of interesting things, from strands of algae and unidentified invertebrates, to old bricks and pottery shards.  I took photos throughout the process and they took notes.  The photos, I realized during our adventure, are going to be key for us in our interactions with experts.  When the kids didn’t know what something was, but were curious, they asked me to take a photograph.  Photos became records of questions and will become the artifacts that we share with experts as they help us understand this area better.  I am excited to make contact with our experts in regards to these questions.

Plus, I realize we need other kinds of expertise.  The kids were creating stories of exploding factories and old ship wrecks in response to the bricks and other bits of industrial debris they were seeing strewn around the area.  I told them nothing of what I knew.  I want them to contact individuals connected with our local museum and historical society.  I picture these individuals coming to our class for a visit and helping us interpret our photos.  What a great way to discover local history!

Finally, the focus on the beach landscape was incredibly interesting.  It was the first time I ever really paid any attention to the way the beach slopes and flattens out, the way the beach is intersected by many fresh water streams, and the way the rocks, sand, clay and mud end up in really very logical places as a result of all these things.  The students have not yet had a chance to reflect on their notes and to make any hypotheses about why the mud is where it is, but that is coming up this week.  Once they have done this, we will be ready to perhaps test out their ideas.

Just as a quick note, I am getting better at making connections with people.  I was at a conference this weekend and met a very enthusiastic young administrator who still cannot stop thinking about her first love: geology.  While she was in the middle of a sparkly-eyed story of her summer travels through the Grand Canyon, I realized that she might be the perfect person for us to consult in our study of the beach landscape.  SO…once we have tried out some experiments, we have someone to discuss our conclusions with.

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