Guest blog post by Science Educator Josh Adrian
Video by CMG fellow Wilder Nicholson
The craze of the summer season has settled down for us as we slide back into our school programs. Our fall is already off to a roaring start, as Rachel and I had the challenge of putting together a program very different from the ones we have been running for the past two months. We went from week-long programs with twelve middle and high school students on the island to a four hour program with 30 first and second graders! The island was buzzing with their elementary energy. We literally lifted the students off of the Equinox. Their voices started as nervous and antsy whispers, timidly sharing their favorite animals but within ten minutes we were all digging into a snack and giggling together as we heaped Nutella onto various vegetables and fruits.
Our morning began with a game called “Oh Deer!” It introduces resources and needs in a very simple way. Students representing deer start on one side and students as resources on the other. Both sides choose one of three symbols representing food, water, and shelter, and on the count of three, the deer turn to face the resources and run to the one matching the resource they selected. We got everyone moving around playing Oh Deer! and comfortable for our next morning activity.
Afterwards, Rachel and I split the group and took the students to discover some of the homes and animals of the intertidal and terrestrial ecosystems on the island. Building on our experiences as deer, the students discussed “needs” versus “wants” and the resources we need to survive. We looked at different homes, such as webworms growing in the apple trees, dog whelks carrying their homes on their backs, and dragonflies and their various homes as they change from nymphs to adults. Getting hands on was huge for our young students! Seeing how impactful it was for them to connect what they had learned on their own adventures elsewhere with what we were showing them that day was awesome. They asked questions about how the animals survived in their homes, shared stories of finding those homes nearby their own houses, and how their own human homes are suited for them to survive.
After lunch, we hiked to the south end of the island and gave the students piles of natural materials with which they could build their own animal homes. We assembled the students into small groups of 4, and each group selected their own animal from the island that they liked. They then worked together to construct a home that would best suit their animal of choice, considering all of the animals’ needs. We toured the homes in a gallery walk fashion, and what a success! The first and second graders did an incredibly thorough job considering the needs of the animals and what natural resources to use. From squirrel homes built next to trees for easy access and with ample storage for food, to mink homes constructed using pre-existing structures, to bird nests considerately built the right size and including protection and insulation, the students covered all the bases.
After a fast day of fun, our program came to an end just as quickly as it started. On our hike back, the students were pointing out homes and familiar parts of the island discussed during our morning activities. They absorbed an astounding amount given the total time we spent together, and translated it to their own field of understanding. We suited the little naturalists with lifejackets and hefted them back aboard the boat to return and soon they were laughing at the sea spray and falling asleep after a long day of hiking. What an excellent first day of school for the students, changing things up from their usual classroom! We explored some exciting natural homes and the animals living in them, and it was a wonderful group of young minds to do it with. It’s always an adventure when we change the parameters for our engagements with students that keep us on our toes. However, no matter the age, I am always impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm to learn the students bring!