Forty-one enthusiastic students from Cheryl Gasse's 4th grade class at the White Sands School were treated to a field trip of fun activities at the White Sands Garrison Environmental Building just a few blocks from the school.
The Environmental office organized a variety of fun activities exploring human interactions with the natural environment. Students attended four 30-minute modules where they learned about soils, archaeology, wildlife, and pollinators, then rotated to the next module when they heard the sound of a horn. The students participated in a scavenger hunt as they moved from one module to the next, and at the end of the field trip everyone played a game called "The Web of Life".
One module showed students the value of pollinators and how plants are pollinated. Debbie Nethers taught them the honey bees "waggle dance", which is used to communicate the location of flowers to fellow bees. Cheese puffs represented pollen and chewy fruit square candy represented seeds. Students had to waggle and 'pollinate' two flowers to produce a seed. They also ended up with a tasty snack at the end of the lesson. Cristina Rodden discussed the use of pesticides, and alternative methods of pest control that rely less on chemicals. These methods reduce harmful effects to pollinators, wildlife, and humans. With her class held next to the pollinator garden, she was able to point out that the easiest way to keep rabbits out of the garden was to use a specially designed rabbit-proof fence.
Matt Cuba, a field archaeologist and experienced flint-knapper, showed the 4th graders how stone tools are made. All of the kids had an opportunity to turn a deer antler into a tool by smoothing down the edges of the antler on the sidewalk. Nadia Martinez showed the students how to grind corn with a grinding stone. Many of the kids said it was one of their favorite activities of the day, as they imagined the yummy tortillas that could be made from the ground corn.
Several of the 4th graders said they enjoyed Kelly Norwood's module on soils and geology. Each student was provided with blank field notebook and was given a sample of sand, silt, and clay. They observed how the different soils interacted with each other and with water, and recorded their observations in the notebooks. When asked if they would rather have sand in their ears or their toes, they unanimously chose their toes.
Wildlife biologist Doug Burkett gave a slide presentation on the wildlife of White Sands Missile Range, and had some live snakes and snake skins to show the kids. He talked about the ecology of a variety of wildlife, including big game mammals like oryx and bighorn sheep, and predators such as mountain lions, bears, eagles, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and badgers. He discussed how wildlife and the military mission coexisted at the missile range and how movements of some animals such as eagles, bears, and antelope are tracked by biologists with radio-telemetry equipment. Many of the kids said that they enjoyed Doug's class on animals the best.
The scavenger hunt was popular, as students looked for clues to identify unique objects such as a snake skeleton, a piece of petrified wood, or a plant called a chocolate flower. The day wrapped up with The Web of Life game where each student was provided with a necklace which represented a different component of the Chihuahuan Desert such as a bee, a deer, or a black bear. The students then made connections with each other using a ball of yarn. By the end of the activity it was clear that pretty much everything is connected.
At the end of the field trip the students gave all of the teachers a loud "Thank You!" The following week, a giant thank you card was delivered to the Environmental staff, as well as illustrated thank you cards from all of the students expressing how much fun they had and their favorite part of the day.