A day for outside hands-on learning

ALPENA – Hinks Elementary School third grade class traveled to Paxton Quarry Tuesday to explore the outdoors and learn about macroinvertebrates, plant life and fishing. Students were put into groups, and participated in several different stations including a macroinvertebrate identification station, a field observation nature walk and learning how to cast a line for fishing.

The Friends of the Lake Huron Watershed, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and representatives of Lafarge help students learn more about nature and its creatures.

“We research insects because they help tell us about the pollution in the water,” Friends volunteer Gerry Kraft said. “The types of insects in the water can tell us about the oxygen levels and how healthy the water is.”

At the macroinvertebrates station, each student had a chance to dip a net into the water and stir up the bottom to catch whatever they could find. They then emptied the net into a bucket of water and looked to see what was inside.

Daniel Moffatt, Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative program coordinator, also was at the quarry educating students on the identification of the macroinvertebrates they caught with the help of Kraft and volunteer Karen Enterline.

“This is a great way to keep students engaged at the end of the school year,” Moffatt said. “They get to have some new experiences and get their feet wet, and see some new things they have never seen before, all while having fun. Some students got to see a dragonfly nymph emerging from its shell. It’s great to get the kids excited about new experiences while they do something that’s familiar to them, like swimming or fishing or playing in the mud, and that’s the fun part.”

The fishing station taught each student how to cast a fishing line to catch fish using cans and weights. After some practice, each student grabbed a fishing pole and a worm and set out to catch a fish. Bucks Bait donated all the worms for the students to use.

“The kids are very excited to learn how to fish,” Friends volunteer Fred Sterns said. “They really enjoy coming here to learn.”

Lafarge has been allowing groups to use the quarry for educational purposes as part of its community involvement, and environmental intern Samantha Olson said it’s apparent how much the students enjoy the time they spend at the quarry.

“It’s part of our goal to be involved in the community and to get students involved in outdoor activities,” Olson said. “We host several different groups out here at the quarry every year as part of our community outreach.”

The nature walk station gave students a chance to explore the plants and animals at the quarry and ask the experts questions while walking through a nature trail. Educational signs also informed students about the different features of the ecosystem at the quarry.

“We have the students use their senses to observe and explore the different plants, animals and features on the trail,” Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator Brandon Schroeder said. “They get to smell, feel, look and listen for things, and talk about what makes them excited about nature.”

Teacher Mary Quinn enjoyed the stations with her students, and said it is great for them to experience nature and science and have a hands-on experience exploring nature.

“In elementary school, science is cut down because there isn’t as much time to cover it. Tests drive what we’re going to teach,” Quinn said. “The students learn so much from hands-on experiences and seeing science and nature in person.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Heather Rawlings walked through the trail with students and pointed out different plants, trees and animals during their hike, explaining their use to students.

“It’s great for the students to have some free range time and spend some time outdoors exploring,” Rawlings said. “They really enjoy walking through the woods, and it’s relaxing.”

The 29 third-graders spent most of their day at the quarry exploring, and were able to take home an observation journal to encourage them to research and journal about what they learned.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.