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Cottonwood Heights Journal

St. John Middle School students learn about wildlife, ecology at Teton Science School

Nov 29, 2016 02:53PM ● By Bryan Scott

During their three-day session at Teton Science School, students spent time measuring the health of a stream. (Patrick Reeder/St. John the Baptist Middle School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Cottonwood Heights

Listening to elk bugling, collecting data in streams and learning about ecology were some of the highlights 64 St. John the Baptist eighth-grade students experienced while attending a three-day session at Teton Science School.

“It was a great learning experience for our students,” St. John Principal Patrick Reeder said. “I’d almost call it a science-based retreat. Every student came away with a greater recognition of Grand Teton National Park and the scientific method as they were immersed in asking questions, hypothesizing, collecting and analyzing data to see if it supported their hypothesis.”

Once in the Tetons, students were divided into field groups of 10 to 12 students, each group having a field leader. These leaders explained to students about the ecosystems of the park. During most of that first day, Reeder said they hiked to a stream where field groups collected data.

“The students took note of the temperature, water flow, velocity and noted macro invertebrates and the health of the habitat in their field journals. They learned how to observe ecosystems and then, share their findings,” he said.

Reeder said students became better at the scientific method.

“The more they engage in the scientific method, the better they are at it and in all their subjects. Technology, logistics, almost every discipline can tie back to the scientific method of using research to question, then testing to prove it,” he said.

On another day, the field groups worked to repair trails that are maintained by the Teton School of Science.

“We worked to clear the trails and improve upon them. Some of them were almost nonexistent, but in doing so, we taught students the valuable lesson of becoming stewards of our environment,” Reeder said.

Students also worked with a naturalist to tie art with ecology as they created pieces of art, using bark, leaves, twigs, dirt and other pieces of nature they found.

“Many of the students made sketchings, some very detailed,” he said.

Each night, students had different activities, but a favorite one was listening to elk bugle. The first rainy, windy night, Reeder sat with students in silence, listening. He said his group heard about seven bugles. 

On a later evening during a night hike by a pond, they heard geese landing on the water.

“It sounded like a motor boat since there were so many,” he said.

Later that same night, they heard a giant herd of elk and numerous elk bugling. 

“Students who had field glasses saw males battling. It was just spectacular to be able to listen and observe this,” he said.

Throughout the three days, students observed a variety of wildlife, including moose, elk, deer, owls, hawks, foxes and several species of macro invertebrates.

However, the three days didn’t just teach students about nature. Reeder said many students learned other skills.

“First, for many, they learned they can survive without technology each and every minute. Their phones and devices were taken from them when we reached the Tetons and for some, that was a hard lesson. Our students also learned responsibility. Each morning they had to pack their lunch and be ready with rain gear, their field journal and other items needed for hikes or for a bus to take them to a specific location. They also were responsible for helping in the cafeteria,” he said.

Students learned about career opportunities in science that they might not have thought of previously, Reeder said. Through the role modeling of these scientists they worked with as field leaders and even an AmeriCorp volunteer, they learned they could teach as well as research in the field.

Students worked together in partners and teams to do field research and tried a low-ropes course.

“Their groups were assigned so students weren’t necessarily with their best friends. Students learned accountability and trust, and were placed in situations where they had to socialize with a different group from their usual peers. They learned to work together and as a result, many of them came away with making new friends. We now see that in the hallways as they talk to one another. They’ve built a bond on this trip. It was an unbelievable trip for them,” Reeder said.