The Power of Field Programs-2nd grade on top of Aspen Mountain
Every year, 2nd grade students from Aspen, Basalt, and Crystal River Elementary schools ride up the Silver Queen gondola, duck the ski boundary rope, and head out Richmond Ridge on a snowshoe challenge course. As they walk, signs appear that invite students to try and experience the winter world as one of the winter animal residents that inhabit our local subalpine landscape. They are up there to learn about winter challenges and survival strategies that plants and animals face in our seasonal habitats, and for an experiential lesson on snow safety from the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol. They are also up there to hopefully have a fun and memorable outdoor learning experience with ACES Educators.
Just like many of our ACES field programs, this program builds on the curriculum that students are learning about in the ACES classroom in their school. It is a way in which students can apply their classroom knowledge out in the field, by making observations and experiencing the environment through a new perspective. By this point in the year, 2nd graders are well versed in physical and behavioral adaptations that help animals survive in their habitats since we align our classroom curriculum to state science standards. 2nd grade science standards addressed in this particular unit are Life Science 1. Organisms depend on their habitat's nonliving parts to satisfy their needs, and Life Science 2. Each plant or animal has different structures or behaviors that serve different functions.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a group of Aspen Elementary 2nd graders on this journey. It was a cold, overcast day with light wind. Students bundled up as they exited the gondola and headed down the hill to the circle of snowshoes that awaited them. It was nearly half of the group’s first time snowshoeing and many of their first time that year up on the top of Aspen Mountain. Once students tightened the snowshoe straps across their boots, they were up and running around, tripping over each other, and making snow angels. Katie Bird, another ACES Educator, and I asked the group a few questions about winter and what challenges it poses on plants and animals. We then ask for a few examples of survival strategies that plants and animals have or do that help them survive. Then we are off on the challenge course!
Challenge signs include:
- Walk like a herd of deer – one behind another directly in each other’s tracks. This saves energy so that only the first deer (person) has to break trail.
- Find a seed, nut or a bud to eat, like a mouse would!
- Bound through the snow like a weasel, using all 4 legs to dig a hole down to the grass.
- Without moving from where you are right now, move your head to find the snowshoe hare camouflaged in the snow, just like an owl!
- You are a tree with leaves. Hold your branches out. Have a partner put snow on your leaves and branches. Hold up as much snow as you can, then switch and give your partner a turn. Why do many trees lose their leaves in winter?
These field programs give the opportunity for ACES educators from the three local elementary schools to switch students for a day. They are opportunities for us to connect with young people across the valley. I teach at Basalt Elementary school. It is always exciting and rewarding to be outside on a field program with the students you teach in the classroom, but it is also very rewarding to see the excitement in students across the whole Roaring Fork valley in learning about the natural world.
~ Phebe Meyers