The end of the 2009 spring Mountain School
Top photo by Katie Trujillo
Other photos by Meghann Willard
The 2009 Spring Mountain School session has come to an end. For the members of Cohort 8 our days of teaching abiotic and biotic lessons in the North Cascades National Park are finished, thankfully only in the formal Mountain School sense. Microscope labs, web of life, silent hikes and glacier lessons are things of the past and the feeling is bitter sweet.
I led my last trail group last week with 5th graders from La Conner Elementary School. My group, the “Dangerous Wolverines”, enjoyed three days of hiking the trails and learning outdoors just before their summer vacation begins. For me this session, my last, was a milestone in the full circle I have come in my teaching style. I vividly remember my first session of teaching Mountain School. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get all the cool information into my lessons. I’m sure that I talked for nearly the entire three days. What I have learned over my seven months of teaching this curriculum is that I don’t have to teach them everything; I only have to lead them along their own path of learning through questions, experiences and example. Most of the time students will make the connections and find the answers on their own with very little assistance from me. Sometimes when I look back on this experience I think I have learned more from my 5th graders than they have from me, so thank you to all of my Mountain School groups for teaching me to be the best educator I can be.
Here is a look at what the Wolverine trail group did during the last 2009 spring Mountain School session.
Looking at biotic (living) things under a microscope. We talked about what all living things need to survive and the roles producers, consumers, and decomposers have in the ecosystem. Students also made huge discoveries that objects that don’t look like they are living anymore have many biotic things living on them.
Hiking up Sourdough Trail the Wolverine group made observations about plants and signs that animals had been in the area. We noticed lots of evidence that the bears have been out: dig marks in ant hills or bark ripped off of Douglas Fir trees. We spotted many different animals species such as the Western Toads, the Red-breasted Sapsuckers, and Black-tailed Deer. We also spotted wildflowers blooming near the waterfall; Indian Paint Brush, Red Columbine, and Tiger Lilies.
On the very last day students made connections between everything they had seen and learned about (biotic and abiotic) and reflected on their time at Mountain School. My students were able to sit and watch a male Black-tailed Deer graze in one of the play fields. Then, at a sit spot looking out onto a very green Diablo Lake students wrote post cards to remind themselves of all they had done in their three days in the North Cascades National Park. One student wrote, “Remember when you went to Mountain School? You saw so many unique animals… the Cascade, what an amazing site that was!”
The bitter in the end of Mountain school comes from my joy of teaching outdoors. I will miss the 5th grade curiosity and exploration. I will miss hearing comments like “I love Mountain school because it’s learning that is fun” or “I hope every 5th grader gets to come to Mountain School.” I will miss the challenge of finding a balance between telling them EVERYTHING I think is cool and letting them discover the cool things on their own. And I will miss the feeling of wonderful exhaustion that means I have hiked all day with curious kids that want to know more that I can tell them.
The sweet is knowing I am one step closer to my dream, one semester closer to having my master’s degree and one moment in time away from doing what I love for the rest of my life. Thank you to all of my Mountain School groups, teachers, chaperones, coworkers and coordinators for making this the best experience of my residency. Also, thank you to everyone who helps make it possible for students to come to the Learning Center: School Districts, PTA, North Cascades Institute Program Participants, North Cascades National Park. I feel so privileged to be a part of such an amazing program.