Tracking at South Jackson Elementary

contributed by Sarah Hubbard

South Jackson Elementary has invited me to visit their Science Enhancement Class IMG_5653once a month for the 2015-16 school year.  

I go one Tuesday a month with the goal of taking their students on a ‘Wilderness Wander’ along their trails!  (South Jackson has a great trail system built by their dedicated teachers.)  My day consists of 5 classes –  each one about 50 minutes long.  There are anywhere from 20 – 30 students in each class.  Time goes real fast.  

In September when I was scheduled to go we were experiencing days upon days upon days of rain.  The earth was a giant puddle.  I decided (with the help of the rain and Mr Stephen Lush – the science enhancement teacher) to do our ‘Wilderness Wander’ inside the classroom.

To make it a ‘wander’ I was going to have to get real creative.

My goal in September was to talk about tracking.  I LOVE tracking.  To me, animal tracks are like a great mystery waiting to be solved. At the end of the story is an encounter (maybe) with a wild animal.  

There is a world of information held within an animal track.  We can ask how long ago the tracks were left? How many animals were present when the tracks were made? Is it the same animal that comes every time to this particular spot? Is it male or female? Where did it go after it left here?  What was it doing in this place?… Every track is a story waiting to unfold before us.

Tracking is a powerful educational tool.  IMG_5637

It teaches questioning, awareness, problem solving, and critical thinking.  It asks us to pay attention – CLOSE attention, to look at details, and to look at what we  might be missing.    

I wanted to convey to the 5 classes to look beyond – to see the track – to see the story left behind for us…

My solution to the quandary of tracking in a classroom? 

2015-09-29 08.59.01A great tracking story (mission impossible style) and treasures left behind of animals from
this region found through my
own tracking and wandering.  A wise mentor of mine once told me that the bones of an animal are the last track they leave .  That has stuck with me. Whenever I find bones I spend time considering what the tracks of the animal were like, who they might have been, where they might have lived, and how their bones ended up here on my path.

2015-09-29 09.48.25I put my found treasures on the tables in the classroom and left them unlabeled, but numbered.  The kids numbered their paper and wrote their guesses down – sort of – some also drew the skulls and bones I brought with me – some didn’t write anything down.  Like the tracker from my story their goal was to look for the clues other might miss from the skulls and bones.  Based on what stood out to them they were to try to figure out who these animals once were.

One by one, class by class the students excitedly made their way around the tables.  There was thoughtful consideration of what each item was and why.  Every class jumped right in joyously eager to see whether they could solve the stories the bones held.2015-09-29 12.56.38

Many of the students got them right or at least close to right simply because they looked for the right clues even noticing some really small details – they did this without my help. And… then… they chased down the patterns and pictures in their minds that matched what they found.  (There were also some pretty outlandish answers too – I think triceratops was pretty popular) 

Now… I’m not totally unfair.  After everyone had a chance to look at all 11 ‘final tracks’ we went around the table together as I told them who each of them were.

2015-09-29 09.30.40I didn’t give them the ‘label’ immediately.  We talked a lot about what stood out to the students, why and how we can use those clues to help determine who we were looking at.  We talked about the size of the bones and the size the animal might have been.  We talked about the shape of the bones and skulls and how that can also be a clue.  We looked at the teeth still held in the skulls and how that could tell them a lot about who they were as well as what they eat.

When I finally gave them the ‘label’ they were able to see the animals clearly for themselves.  

In that moment they too became trackers.

We didn’t get outside, but we definitely practiced tracking. We asked a lot of questions and we had a great time!

Next month, we will be talking about scout and stalking skills.  Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!


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