Get 'Em Out and Get 'Em Dirty
Science Teacher: “Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head and he discovered gravity. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Student: “Yes, sir. If he had been sitting in class looking at books like us, he wouldn’t have discovered anything!”
Educators at the federation really believe in taking kids outside to teach them about their coastal environment. Sitting in class looking at books is important, too, but discovery often happens out of the classroom.
Fall, especially, is a great time to get outside and learn. The weather is nice and cool and, hopefully, there are fewer mosquitoes. I often meet students at the Hoop Pole Creek nature trail, the federation’s 31-acre preserve in Atlantic Beach. We bought the property in 1997 using a $2.5 million grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Instead of succumbing to development, the creek’s healthy maritime forest and coastal marshes are now a natural refuge for fish and wildlife.
The students and I talk about barrier island ecology and habitat adaptations, trek through the maritime forest and the salt marsh towards Bogue Sound, test the creek’s water quality and discuss recent environmental issues. We see fiddler crabs scurrying along the sand into their holes and periwinkle snails crawling slowly up the marsh grasses. Usually, I give the kids about 20 or 25 minutes to just explore.
In a recent Orion Magazine article called “Look, Don’t Touch,” I learned that I need to focus “way more on hands-on experience with children and way less on systematic knowledge. Or at least understand that systematic knowledge can emerge organically from lots of hands-on experience. Between the ages of six and twelve, learning about nature is less important than simply getting children out into nature.” It’s an interesting change in thought for an environmental educator – just get them out there and don’t worry as much about teaching.
Now, when I’m teaching at Hoop Pole Creek, I think about these kids learning by doing. Maybe one of them will discover something new.
-- Sarah Phillips, coastal education coordinator