It’s About the Science
January 31, 2014
(written by guest blogger Matt Allio, Director of Walden School)
I’m writing this as the 6th grade is just departing the Jackson Hole airport after a week of experiential and indelible learning in the spectacular setting of the Grand Teton National Park. I had the good fortune to be with the 6th grade for the first couple days of the trip. And it must be noted the 6th graders were guided and inspired by the exhaustive work of Drew Gagne, Danica Dermott, Marcia Van and Terra Toscano prior to and while on the expedition.
Many in our community follow the trip through Walden’s Facebook page. I hear comments on the beauty found in the photographs, the engagement of the students, and how fortunate our students are to have such an experience. That’s all true.
However, what was amplified for me during my time with the 6th grade was how important fieldwork—in this case science—is in our outdoor education program. Whether our students are at Joshua Tree studying desert ecology, Idyllwild studying astronomy, Catalina Island studying marine biology or Jackson Hole studying the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the underpinning of each expedition is fieldwork. It’s the science.
Naturally, there’s bonding that occurs on trips with a group of students away from home in an unfamiliar setting. But at Walden School, that bonding has already happened because of the community work done by the faculty prior to the expedition. Because Walden students feel closely connected to each other from their daily classroom work, the science becomes the central feature of the fieldwork and the experiential nature of the learning can occur seamlessly.
While in Grand Teton National Park, the 6th graders, outfitted with cross country skis or snowshoes, explored animal tracking, glacial geology, winter adaptations of the plants and animals, temperature gradients in the formation of snow crystals, and glacial tracking. They did this fieldwork surrounded by fields of aspen trees, among the elk in the National Elk Refuge, and in the shadow of the 13,770 peak of the Grand Teton mountain. The temperature ranged from -15 degrees to 30 above zero. From bright sunshine to a heavy snowstorm – this is real science, amid the elements, all experiential.
As our 6th graders are flying from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City and set to arrive at Burbank near 9:00 pm tonight, they come back changed from their experience. As important as the shared bonding can be, our 6th graders come back changed in a way that only the depth of the science fieldwork can provide. This expeditionary fieldwork is essential.