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St. John Students Make National Park Their Classroom

Nov 06, 2015 09:03AM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

Draper - For four days, St. John the Baptist students woke up and went outside to make nature their classroom at Grand Teton National Park.

During the school’s 10th annual trip to Teton Science School Sept. 20 through Sept. 23, 80 eighth-grade students had the opportunity to explore eco-systems, animal habitats and earth science, matching the state core curriculum, assistant principal Jean Synowicki said.

“Students learned more walking along the different trails learning and talking about fire and glacier ecology than they would have by reading it in a book or watching a video,” she said. “It was right there in front of them. They were getting hands-on learning.”

Synowicki said they were able to conduct experiments, such as gathering water and testing it to determine water pollution.

“They’d get field experience, then analyze data using the scientific method to support their hypothesis. They’d learn about echolocation with bats and see how animals adapt to the night when we went on night hikes. They learned about conservation and waste as we measured leftover scraps from our meals when we did dishes. It’s an amazing program that teaches students every minute. To experience it with the teachers who are trained there to teach hands-on environmental issues, it can’t be beat,” she said.

Students also learned about fire ecology, where they discovered that lodge pine trees’ pinecones explode when they’re hot, scattering seeds along the burnt forest.

“That’s why those trees come back so quickly after the forest fires. The students also learned that aspens are one huge root system and they’re all connected,” she said.

Students, in small groups of seven or eight, also tallied elk bugling, recording up to 22 calls. The students also saw moose, took field notes and took time to paint mountains and waterfalls.

Synowicki said that students also are able to make connections through learning about plants, animals, water, eco-systems and the land.

“At the same time, they’re learning teamwork, communication and leadership. When students signed up they could room with their friends, but were assigned groups ,and sometimes students were with others they hadn’t talked to or didn’t know. It was neat to see the bonding experiences, and that’s one that we still see now that they’ve returned to our campus,” she said.           

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