Sixth-grade students from Ho-Ho-Kus Middle School journeyed to the New Jersey School of Conservation this November to experience the outdoors, and what an experience they had. With the combined efforts of Ho-Ho-Kus trip coordinators Chris Kumar and Katie Gwynne and NJSOC Program Coordinator Lisa Mills, an exciting trip was planned that highlighted a variety of exciting experiences. Although the weather didn’t always cooperate, the students still got a chance to participate in Action Socialization Experiences (ASEs), Water Ecology, Climbing Wall, Confidence Course, Survival, Orienteering, Web of Life, and Winter Ecology.
The students began their trip with ASEs, an activity meant to challenge the students to improve their teamwork skills and set a productive and positive tone for the remainder of the trip. A challenge is set for each group that they need to work together to solve. Then, they are asked to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The groups found that working together can sometimes be difficult, but when done effectively tasks that would be impossible alone can be accomplished. At the end of the class, students came together as a large group and discussed the real-world application of cooperative skills.
Ho-Ho-Kus students experienced a vital part of the ecology of the NJSOC campus in Water Ecology. The class began with a discussion of the importance of water as a resource and different ways we use water, as well as ways we might pollute water sources. Students were then asked to make predictions about whether they thought the water at NJSOC would show signs of being polluted or not. They then made their way to the Flatbrook to collect samples of benthic macroinvertebrates (generally insect larvae). The samples collected could then be compared to charts that tell which invertebrates indicate the best stream health, and found that the SOC campus has excellent stream health!
Students were able to get their feet off the ground at the climbing wall and the low ropes confidence course. Both activities encourage students to get out of their comfort zones as well as encourage each other to succeed. At the climbing wall, students have the opportunity to climb the 20- and 35-foot walls. They learned about setting goals for themselves in order to be successful, and the importance of pushing themselves. At the confidence course, students were closer to the ground but had to learn to rely on their classmates, as traversing the low ropes course requires spotting by the whole team.
The sixth graders headed into the woods for survival and orienteering classes. Each teaches skills important for wilderness exploration. Students in survival discussed the importance of keeping a cool head in a stressful situation, as well as how to prioritize their four basic needs. They then discussed how different items can be used successfully in a survival situation. In orienteering, the sixth graders learned how to orient themselves with only a compass. They got to trek through the woods with their compasses as guides. Along the way, they were given pointers to use the compasses more effectively such as back-checking and counting paces.
One of the favorite activities was Web of Life, where the students were able to simulate a natural food web in an activity similar to tag. Students first discussed the important parts of the food web and the interactions they have with each other. They were then given identities of either a carnivore, an omnivore, or an herbivore. This simulation allowed them to gain a better understanding of the way that energy flows through an ecosystem.
With a snowstorm on its way, what better way to take advantage of the weather than by teaching a Winter Ecology class? Ho-Ho-Kus students learned about what winter weather means for wild plants and animals as well as some of the different strategies used to survive the winter. They then had the opportunity to get outside and simulate making an effective winter shelter for a gelatin “animal.” Important factors included good insulation with leaves, proximity to the ground, and shelter from the wind. After all that learning, the students also got the chance to have some fun in the first good snow of the season! All the environmental educators here at the School of Conservation would like to thank Ho-Ho-Kus students, staff, and chaperones for a fantastic trip! We can’t wait to see you next year—hopefully with better weather.
Written by Katie Tharrett