Life Science

Olympic Life by Terry Zimmerman

Life science 1

The Academy Upper School students are immersed in studies of the life sciences this year; Biology for the Middle School and Environmental Science for the High School.  It was something of a “baptism by fire” in mid-Fall as the HS students were joined by a couple ‘brave’ 7th graders for 4 days (and nights!) at NatureBridge on the Olympic Peninsula.  They faced intellectual, physical, and social challenges, often mixed together in powerful forms.

Day 1, Lesson 1: Map reading & orientation

Day 1, Lesson 1: Map reading & orientation

Under the expert guidance of a NatureBridge educator we spent entire days out in the woods, mountains and waters of the Lake Crescent region, rain or shine, (and mostly the former!).  We hiked high and low, and even paddled studying first-hand the plants and animals of the region in order to understand how they create this unique ecosystem.

 

Rainforest classroom during the day...

Rainforest classroom during the day…

 

Fireside classroom at night.

Fireside classroom at night.

 

 

 

 

 

In the evenings, all groups in camp gathered for all-you-can eat meals back in the lodge, followed by student-assisted cleanup.  And then the academic program continued; gathered around to discuss the day’s experience and prepare for the next, or out on the dock stargazing, or in the deep dark woods deprived of visual distractions, experiencing what it means to really listen to the night-sounds.  Bedtime was early by everyone’s standards — and yet all were ready (well mostly).

Life science 5 Physical challenges were as old as human history (yet tailored for the group’s abilities):  Learning how to spend most of our days outside without man-made shelters nearby for convenient escape whenever the weather suddenly doesn’t suit you… Travelling under the power of our appendages to learn first-hand in places inaccessible by motor vehicles.  The exception was a day we travelled by van far up the Elwha river canyon to view the remarkable aftermath where a giant dam was removed recently and then took river water samples for later analysis.

 

 

Life science 6 Life science 7

 

 

It may be that the “social” challenges were the most difficult —and valuable.  Out on a trail miles from the conveniences and accustomed habits of classroom life, the students were both encouraged and inspired to discover (and rediscover), through fits and through failures, the value of functioning as a team.  In the Academy classroom one learns to tolerate others when they “rub you wrong” but in this much larger classroom the importance of helping and supporting each other came repeatedly into focus.  Not least amongst the social challenges (certainly for the science teacher and his ‘co-teacher’ parent!) was surviving together in a small 4-room cabin without running water, TV, smart phones, refrigerator, (supposedly) smuggled in food.

Rain break leads to shore LUNCH… and a rainbow over Lake Crescent

Rain break leads to shore LUNCH… and a rainbow over Lake Crescent

To be sure, not all of the program was perfectly targeted for everyone in our group –after all they ranged from 7th grade to high school senior level.  And the value each student placed on a given experience varied.  Certainly most were eager to get home to their familiar comforts and conveniences.  But my bet is that for each their experience at NatureBridge widened their perspective on both science and life; Big picture lessons they would be hard-pressed to learn in the city.

Life science 9

Cooling the tired dogs after a long day's treck

Cooling the tired dogs after a long day’s trek

Class convenes in the forest

Class convenes in the forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and hikes up Star King Mountain

…and hikes up Star King Mountain

A half-mile delta into Puget Sound formed when the 100 year-old Elwha Dam was removed recently.

A half-mile delta into Puget Sound formed when the 100 year-old Elwha Dam was removed recently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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