Students from Netcong Elementary School spent time at the New Jersey School of Conservation this May for a unique learning experience. Using the great outdoors as a classroom, the students learned to appreciate the natural world and got to enjoy some beautiful spring weather. Through the combined efforts of Netcong’s school coordinator Gina Szjareko and the School of Conservation’s Program Coordinator Lisa Mills the students had the chance to participate in a variety of activities including Group Initiatives, Metalsmithing, Herpetology, Confidence Course, Conservation Photography, and Boating.
Working in groups is an important skill both in a school and out in the real world. During Group Initiatives, Netcong seventh graders were given a series of challenges to solve within their small groups. These challenges are meant to get students thinking creatively and critically in order to be successful. They are also encouraged to collaborate with the others on their team, since the challenge is not considered complete until the entire group has been successful. Once a challenge is complete, the students are asked to reflect back on what made them successful and what they could improve upon. These activities set a positive tone for the rest of the trip where students consistently need to work in small groups.
Students had the chance to try something unique during Metalsmithing. This class teaches students about early blacksmiths, how they honed their craft, and just how much work was put in to making even small metal pieces by hand. Students then get the chance to get their own hands dirty as they take to the forge and anvil to craft their own metal S-hook. They also got the chance to create more delicate designs by poking holes through tin, which would fall into the category of “white-smithing” due to the fact that working tin doesn’t require heat and therefore creates no soot.
Amphibians and reptiles are often an underappreciated species of the animal kingdom, but Netcong’s seventh graders had the chance to learn all about them in Herpetology. Students discussed the unique traits of both groups, and then got the chance to see those traits up close and personal when meeting SOC’s educational snakes and turtles! Students then had the chance to search for reptiles and amphibians around the School of Conservation campus. Spring is the time when most of these animals lay their eggs, students ventured to vernal pools–small pools that fill with snow melt and extra spring rain but dry up in the hot summer. These pools make the perfect predator free environment for juveniles, and students were lucky to find both snapping turtle and musk turtle babies!
During confidence course, students had the opportunity to challenge themselves with a series of low ropes elements. Designed to bring students out of their comfort zone, these elements involve walking across a wire strung a foot or so off the ground. The team acts as spotters while students take turns getting up on the elements and pushing themselves to try new things.
Taking pictures allows us to appreciate the world around us. Pictures can be an impressive way to convey environmental issues to the public and to get people to care about things going on beyond the boundaries of their own backyard. In Conservation Photography, students are encouraged to see nature as art. They discuss some of the reasons why we take pictures and why this is important, as well as some of the techniques used to make a good picture. After this, they hit the trails to use the skills they just learned. The students took some fantastic pictures and each framed one photo as a souvenir.
Boating on Lake Wapalanne is a great way to finish off an excellent trip, as well as a good way to see the NJSOC campus from a new angle. Students boarded canoes and paddled around, hoping to see some of the wildlife that makes their home in our lake. The entire staff here at the School of Conservation would like to thank Netcong Elementary for another wonderful trip. Special thanks to all of the teachers and chaperones who make the trip possible, we look forward to seeing you again next year!
Written by Katie Tharrett