Sixth Grade Outdoor School - Camp Hancock
Posted October 12, 2012
As the mom of an only-boy, I admit I had some fleeting trepidation about chaperoning 11 sixth grade girls for three nights in the wilderness. This was especially true after we were introduced to “Tarzan” and “Jane,” the infamous pit toilets located several minutes’ walk from the cabins. As it turned out the Cougar girls were stupendous bunkmates. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to get to know these girls, many of their classmates, and to spend time with the other chaperones, Kate, Tim, Yuming, Barry, Lori, Olivier and their talented and truly dedicated teachers, Ms. Clifton, Ms. LeBlond, Mr. Goss and Mr. Luther.
Throughout Outdoor School the students developed a more sophisticated understanding of the core principals of being a good learner. They worked hard to be recognized as Inquirers, Thinkers, Principled, Caring, Balanced, Knowledgeable, Communicators, Open-minded, Risk-takers, and Reflective. They even created campfire skits based on these Learner Profile characteristics. When successful, they were rewarded with a colored bead corresponding to a characteristic. For example, Yuming taught students to tie shoestrings using a new, lightning-fast technique. Students who taught ten other students the technique earned a “good communicator” bead. Some students were recognized as “risk takers” by performing for the group during evening campfires.
Each participant belonged to a field study group that rotated through classes on teamwork, orienteering (using a compass), fossil study, geology, and desert ecology. Classes began with a lecture and ended with a hike or other physical application of the information presented in the lecture. We were busy and fully engaged from a 6 a.m. morning walk to 10 p.m. nearly every day.
During Team Challenge students learned to value being open-minded to find better solutions with multiple ideas.
In Orienteering, students demonstrated that they could properly use a compass and created a “treasure map” for others in the group to use to find lollypops. Although some of the boys were disappointed to learn that they couldn’t hide the “treasure” in Tarzan (pit toilet building) I was impressed at how quickly they mastered the skills.
The Mineral Lab gave the students a good opportunity to test the mineral properties of rocks before heading out on a hike see the different strata of rocks in the monument. Our guide used songs to help us learn the geologic names (Columbia River Basalt, John Day Ash, Ignimbrite, and Lahar where the fossils reside). On one very hot afternoon we applied mud face-masks made of iron oxide clay mixed with water that the students gathered at Red Hill. Later student teams created and performed skits about prehistoric animals that had lived in the John Day area in prehistoric times. Before heading back to camp, we played a few rounds of Predator and Prey where the prey tried to identify the hidden locations of all of the many predators before being eaten.
The Ecology Study included lying on the edge of a cliff on our stomachs, to see the valley and roosting birds below. We also learned about the animals and plants of the dessert. Did you know that juniper tree has male and female plants with edible berries that are covered in a yeast layer that serves as a sunscreen? Throughout our time at Hancock we enjoyed seeing scorpions, gopher and rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, lizards, a mouse in the women’s showers and even a bunny visitor in the Owls cabin.
The evening classes and campfires were also marvelous. There were fascinating presentation on birds of prey including a resident Great Horned Owl from whom we learned that owls cannot in fact rotate their heads 360 degrees. “Space Man Dan” treated us to a slide presentation on the solar system and the moon and accompanied us to a knoll where we used high-powered telescopes to view the moons craters. Very cool!
My favorite was the first evening at Hancock. There is no light noise at Hancock Field Station but the nearly-full moon made the night almost as bright as day. Daniel, one of several gifted OMSI Counselors led our Field Group into the shadow of a Canyon after dinner. He explained the physiology of the human eye and how night vision is destroyed by the use of flashlights. So, in darkness except for the light of the moon, the group learned about tribolumenescence by watching each other create sparks by crunching on Wint-o-green lifesavers. On the return, we each had the fabulous opportunity to walk solo (to meet up with fellow chaperone Tim Bundt who was waiting around a bend) on the moonlit trail spaced so that no one could be seen ahead or behind. For about 45 seconds each person was able to walk alone in the wilderness as humans had for centuries. But then the singular sound of our own footsteps joined the chatter and laughter of those who had gone first. This first night was typical of the educational range that that our sixth graders received at Outdoor School last week.
Outdoor School was, in the vernacular of sixth graders, unspeakably AWESOME!