I spent six days over the past two weeks with 180 fifth, sixth, and seventh graders outdoors. The first day, we worked with middle school students participating in a Bio-Blitz, where we converged on a site and inventoried as many plant and animal species as we could discover. The research is being coordinated by the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute as part of their Science in Action Program, where junior high schools student undertake relevant local environmental studies.
Middle school students are a challenging! group to teach and to motivate, yet the task becomes easier when the students are active, involved, and are outdoors. Small groups where the student-teacher-ratio is reduced to 7:1.
We had a fun task: record all the birds, mammal, and reptiles we found in a beautiful place on The Dalles Mountain. Hawks on the wing, scorpions, and as you can see…a brief capture of an alligator lizard.
Discipline problems and apathy toward learning were magically replaced by excitement, laughter, and an appreciation of spending a day exploring.
The other five days were spent by Beacon Rock in a meadow by the Columbia River where Washougal, Washington middle school students would spend their entire day visiting four educational activity stations, a nice mix of botany, wildlife, Native American culture, and Lewis & Clark history. I chaired the wildlife corner and we spent a quickly passing half hour solving a natural mystery: Who Killed Alan Alder, then ran around being bears, eating peanuts like squirrels and chipmunks, and testing powers of observation. Childlish stuff, perhaps, or more likely, child-like. Handing out food usually results in student interest, while replacing lecturing with hands-on challenges heightens active participation.
My voice is quite raspy after all this outdoor teaching and I am still recovering physically from putting out lots of energy. Some of my props are damaged beyond repair from being used by 360 hands. Yet, this time felt so worth it, being somehow utterly rewarding. The students laughed at my lame jokes: “Never say, here kitty, kitty if you meet up with a mountain lion.” And much to my surprise, as I said goodby to the last group on a rainy Friday, all of them waved and said, “Thank you.” ~