Angling For Knowledge

Prospecting for critters with the zeal of pioneers panning for gold in 1850s California, the fifth grade immersed itself — literally — in Brubaker Run creek to explore in real life the science they’ve studied in the classroom.

Although for some students, zeal was tempered with a dollop of wariness.

Standing in the middle of the creek with water flowing just an inch below the top of her galoshes, Emily P. voiced a concern. “I don’t want any leeches on me!” she said.

“That’s never happened!” came Caroline Badri’s instant response. “You’ll be fine.”

The assistant head of Lower School joined T.J. O’Gorman, Meg Reed, Sue LeFevre and Science Department Chairwoman Laura Trout on the interdisciplinary field trip to Rader Park, where students tested the water quality of the stream, used their surroundings to inspire poetry, and considered our collective interdependence with a kind of role-playing game that cast the students as property developers.

To gauge the water quality, students took samples and measured a number of variables: the concentration of dissolved oxygen, nitrates and phosphates, the water’s temperature and turbidity, and the macroinvertebrate population. The latter is especially important because these organisms, such as crayfish, can only survive in a narrow range of water conditions and thus their presence or absence serves as a bellwether for the quality of the stream.

O’Gorman led the “Sum of Parts” exercise, in which students were given riverfront property and $20 million to spend developing it. For example, one entrepreneurial fifth-grader decked out his spread with a saw mill and lumber yard. After everyone’s developed their property, they discover that their parcels adjoin one another. As neighbors along “one big river, if they build something especially extravagant, they find they’re unwittingly polluting the river for everyone downstream,” O’Gorman said.

Students in Reed’s group sat in the sunshine, working on “writing inspired by nature,” she explained. This included a partner exercise called Human Camera, in which one student takes 5 seconds to observe a scene, then uses that mental snapshot to recreate in free verse or haiku the image he or she saw to constellate that picture in the partner’s mind.

As Reed was explaining this, Peachy L. ran up to share her poem with Reed, but issued a caveat first. “It doesn’t have any personification,” Peachy said apologetically.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Reed. “I’d love to hear anything you’ve written.”

“It’s wonderful for kids to get outside like this,” Badri said.