Guest blog post by Science Educator Robin Chernow
We recently wrapped up our summer program season with The Middle School Island Explorers. These rising 5th and 6th grade students, the youngest open enrollment group of the summer, brought an energy and a zeal for exploration of the island. The name “Island Explorers” was appropriate for these six students who explored many environments on the island. From checking out the island’s history, to examining tide pools and freshwater ponds, to investigating how scientific tools such as observation can help us understand the world around us, these students encompassed what it means to be “island explorers.”
We started the week by talking about naturalists, and how observation is an incredibly important tool or skill for these field scientists. We brainstormed how our senses can help us make observations and how paying attention to something helps us notice the little details that often lead to more questions.
On our history hike on Day 1, the students kept noticing quarry-era (1870-1914) relics and artifacts, asking question after question as we hiked through the historical sites. Right off the bat, my Education intern Dana and I were impressed by their astute observations and excitement for learning. Every day we ventured to a new part of the island, and I continued to be amazed by the students’ observations.
These astute observations and the excitement for learning never faded away as the students explored the island all week. On Monday, fellow Science Educator Josh and I led the students on a Bug Quest, in which the students’ mission was to closely examine the anatomy of bugs in the field to determine whether or not they were insects. Later, we went to the intertidal zone near Two Bush Island for some low tide explorations. As students climbed over seaweed covered rocks and around shallow tide pools, their faces lit up with discovery upon finding numerous dog whelks, hermit crabs, limpets, sea urchins, tunicates, and other creatures. One day, Education Intern Michelle traversed the island’s trails with our group for a lesson on edible plants. Later in the week, the students led me to the wood sorrel and huckleberries so I could snack on them as well.
I love that my students took ownership over their experience on the island. They became young scientists by making observations, asking questions, and sharing what they had learned. I admire the curiosity of the young students from the Island Explorers group. Overall I have noticed that older students ask fewer questions than young students, perhaps because older students are afraid of seeming stupid for not knowing, or because they think they need to filter their thoughts. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed working with these younger students who are curious and inquisitive and who brought such an energy and excitement to the island.
I felt refreshed by their enthusiasm across the board. This enthusiasm, coupled with a willingness to try new things, allowed our students to take on new challenges and embrace new experiences. They concocted culinary creations such as sea moss pudding and kelp chips (thanks to our chef Eric for sharing his expertise!). They eagerly measured lobsters to confirm whether they were large enough to keep. They trekked around the island with Science Educator Rachel and harvested pigment sources before designing their own naturally-dyed bandanas. They learned about woodworking, constructing a small roof with our Facilities Assistant Silas. The students caught frogs in the ice pond and squeezed through “the crack.” One of my proudest moments was seeing them conquer the rock climbing facade, supporting each other as they pushed outside their comfort zones.
By the end of the week, I was exhausted! The boundless energy of kids can be tiring; however, that same energy is also inspiring. I loved that they embraced new experiences and I was invigorated by the fact that these students had so fun much fun with the nature, science, and leadership opportunities on the island. This group of young middle school students capped off an incredible summer season and I feel so grateful to have shared the week of exploration with them.