I do a number of activities before we go on this field trip because I want them to be aware of where we're going, and the subtleties of this environment. It is probably the complete opposite of the rest of the Vegas experience. We just walk around on the trails there, led by a volunteer, who points out the various types of plants that live in each of the environments there: wetlands, riparian, alkali meadows. We also keep a sharp watch for evidence of animal life--footprints or scat. We've rarely seen more than the occasional rabbit or lizard. There are several types of birds, both flying about and swimming. So, it's not flashy.
But, did we have some cool experiences! I went with a group of nine boys because we only had one parent who had accompanied this set of boys. I had a great turn-out: eight parents! But they were all walking with the other groups. It was a gorgeous day, partly cloudy, around 72 degrees, a slight breeze. The air was clear and you could smell the scent of the grass and the resinous plants. When we got closer to the water treatment plant we could also smell the icky odor of the newly released water from there that flows through this large wetland that actually helps cleans it as it travels toward the Colorado River.
The students in my group were so thrilled to be there. They are the type of boys for whom school is a relentless torture chamber. None of them is that excited about writing and reading. They are cheerful, and each has a fun sense of humor. But, the pesky things that we teachers hassle them with all day--sitting still, writing paragraphs, not talking to their friends just because they feel like---these are not their best thing. They're gregarious, outspoken, enthusiastic. Just the opposite of studious, quiet, bookish--those qualities that elementary
So, being able to talk all day, stop and investigate the weird-looking plants, call out "Hey look at this!" was just the kind of day they needed. We found coyote tracks, bobcat tracks, raccoon tracks and even saw great blue heron footprints in the mud through the shallow water in a calm pond. We identified scat from coyotes and rabbits. We poked at it with sticks and looked at the seeds and rabbit fur that the coyote had consumed. WE SAW A DEAD BIRD!! It was quite dramatic, too. It was a fresh kill, laying there trailside, with its head missing, leaving behind the red, fleshy neck bones. We spent a bit of time poking it, and wondering who had killed it. There wasn't much evidence around--it hadn't been eaten--just the missing head, with the exposed neck bones. Cool...
We just walked our legs off, talking, admiring the plants, learning about how the Indians used them, seeing butterflies and dragon flies and turtles sunning on a rock. It was an awesome day! I wish we could learn like that every day. I know that they'll never forget it. Maybe they'll be inspired to go outside and do some looking like that more often.