School backpacks line the walls of the PNC Achievement Center, a sure sign that the 2013-2014 field trip season has begun at The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
A group of 80 fourth & fifth graders from Field Elementary gather up their science journals and pull on their mud boots; ready for a full day of exploring Floyd’s Fork Creek. Today’s class is Diversity of Life – a study of our stream’s aquatic ecosystem.
We divide into groups and head off toward the creek where our lesson will occur. After a short hike down the Sycamore Trail we land at the gravel bar, an elevated area of sediment that has been deposited by the flow of the stream that’s teeming with fossils, and fresh water mussels.
The interpretive team wastes no time introducing the students to the creek. After an overview of Floyd’s Fork and an introduction to some basic terms like riffle, pool and cut bank; trees of significance to the Parklands (like the mighty Sycamore) are identified. Students are asked why they think these trees grow on the edge of a stream, and are asked to ponder why they’re relationship with Floyd’s Fork is so important.
Students and chaperones are divided into groups and head in opposite directions to do their first round of exploring. The first group begins a search for one of the Parklands favorite critters, the freshwater mussel. The students dig in the sediment with nets and small hand shovels, with unbounded curiosity. The mussels are abundant in this section of the creek and they hold, observe and compare what they’ve uncovered with their classmates.
The second group is introduced to seine netting—students walk along the creek kicking their feet to disturb the water and drive fish into a net nearby. For some, it’s their first time in a creek and it’s exciting to watch their reactions as they set foot in the water. In minutes, the net is filled with dozens of hog suckers, minnows and creek chubs. The fish are collected and poured into an aquarium nearby where students gather around to observe, draw, and ask questions about each one.
We end our day with a presentation highlighting some of our favorite finds of the day – a juvenile soft shell turtle – caught by a student; and a northern stud fish, an uncommon species found in our region. A banded water snake (a little too quick to catch), inspired a lot of questioning and presenting our rangers with a teaching opportunity about beneficial animals.
After goodbye waves, and some hand shaking with the staff and teachers, the students are loaded on the bus and head back to school, we hope having had a new learning adventure that was both exciting and fun. We ourselves have learned some valuable lessons from working with these students, and after boots are cleaned and hung to dry, we are looking forward to getting back in the creek. Tomorrow brings another field trip adventure.
To learn more about school programs at the Parklands of Floyds Fork, click here.