Monday, October 13, 2008

No Child Left Inside: Earth Science Week!

I want to encourage all of you to make the outdoors accessible to a child this year, in honor of Earth Science Week, October 12-18 (official site here)! What a great theme! It is true in my neck of the woods, and probably most other places that field trips for elementary school kids are becoming rarer and rarer as budgets tighten. We are spending more and more time teaching our children how to take a d*mned multiple-choice test in math and English, while forgetting that most real learning takes place in the sciences and arts. I guess we are trying to produce a bunch of factory automatons who will punch buttons well, and will never complain, never wish to travel, and never appreciate the wonderful world that lies beyond the edge of their city or town.

I see it already in my college classes: students who, in our case, live just a two hour drive from Yosemite National Park, but have never once been there. Many of the students in our area used to pay a visit to a local cavern (Moaning Caverns) in the 5th grade or so, but lately I am finding that fewer than ever have done so. I get blank looks when I mention it. It's a terrible loss, and a lost opportunity.

Those of us in the teaching community need to do what we can. If they can't take the child outside, we can bring the outdoors a little closer to them. Make yourself available to visit elementary classrooms; brings some rocks (especially volcanic ones), and bring some fossils (they go nuts over dinosaurs but are impressed by the smallest shells). Bring a projector and some digital images; they will follow with rapt attention your description of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, dinosaur digs, literally anything you want to talk about. They are hungry to hear from someone who has been out there doing these exciting things.

Kids today have a lot of distractions, in busy family lives, soccer practice, television, cell phones, the internet, and it can be hard to break through. But you can, believe me! In some parts of Utah, there are places where Cretaceous oyster fossils so common they are dug up and used for roadbeds. Take those same nearly useless shells, and give one to each kid in a classroom, and you will make an impression that will be remembered for years. Let a kid touch a real dinosaur bone, and they will not forget it.

You may never know what effect you have had, but sometimes you get a surprise.

About fifteen years ago, a parent brought her child on a field trip with me. I thought little of it at the time, but that young lady is finishing a master's degree in volcanology in Idaho these days. I didn't remember that she was on that trip so long ago, but she dropped off a picture of her as a ten-year-old standing next to a (much thinner) me that sits enshrined on my wall.

Take a chance. When there is an opportunity to do it, bring some kids on a field trip. Visit their classrooms, share some of your stories. It will have a huge effect.

The young lady in the bottom photo was finding out how stubborn an animal can be when protecting her young...the grouse actually stood down a line of vans in Grand Tetons, refusing to let us pass by, and not running away as we tried to shoo it off the road. Think she will ever forget the moment?
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