Even after all these years of teaching – every once in a while I have to take a minute and remember that it is wonderful when my carefully laid plans for class go in a completely opposite and different direction. Great things can happen when you take students outdoors, and oftentimes, those things are not at all what was originally in the lesson plan.
The lab was to find a square meter of land on our amazing campus. This is not the first time I’ve written how blessed I am to have a campus like the one Allendale Columbia has offered me; a creek, woods, spider webs, and red tailed hawk nests. Students were going to do a species variation study of the organisms found in that square meter in a typical New York deciduous forest biome. As we crossed the creek bed on campus to get to our wooded area, I caught my students wandering over to the middle of the creek, motionless. They dropped their rulers and lab notebooks, and circles around a small pool of water in the middle of the almost dry creekbed. I had to remember that usually this creek runs high with runoff. It is dry a majority of the time, but students rarely see closeup the amazing holes and pits left behind by the mechanical weathering of the creek. A few crayfish still called the place home, and my students began to ask questions about the fate of these small creatures when the water was gone. My lesson plan was out the window, but the teachable moment and opportunity was too valuable to pass up.
We spent the rest of class discussing topography, life cycles, weathering, environmental effects of water diversion, crayfish, and pollution. We didn’t discuss the species variation of that square meter, but that can wait until tomorrow.