AP Environmental Science: (Cold & Wet) Hands-On Learning

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There’s just something about digging your hands into what you’re learning (though you may have cold and wet hands for the rest of the day) that makes the knowledge so much richer.

“We weren’t learning because we were going to have a big test or our journals were going to be marked… we found the data, analyzed it and drew conclusions because we wanted to know the results.”

Our AP Environmental Science class of nine students and two teachers traveled to the Bamfield Marine Station on the west coast of the Island and hit the ground running with lessons and labs all day — 30 hours of class time in three days! We learned about biodiversity by actually counting trees in the forest; studied barnacles in the intertidal zone; and inspected stuffed sea birds and their stomach contents to learn about plastic pollution in the ocean.

I can’t pick out a specific lesson or activity that was my favourite, but the tone of the whole trip was what I’ll remember the most. We weren’t learning because we were going to have a big test or our journals were going to be marked, or because we had to fill out this or that worksheet — we found the data, analyzed it and drew conclusions because we wanted to know the results.

How does a second growth forest differ in biodiversity from a first growth forest? How is climate change affecting aspects of our oceans? What sort of birds are good indicators for the amount of pollution in the water? Why is kelp important?

I remember on one afternoon we were out on a boat in Grappler Inlet testing the salinity, temperature and visibility based on where we were relative to the open ocean, and we picked up a sample of plankton. That night after a lesson on plankton, we spent over an hour looking at it under a microscope. But, we could take samples as we wanted, look at them for as little or as long as we wanted, look up the larvae or whatever else we may find in the book, and share what we found with the people around us on our own accord. No one told us how we were supposed to learn, we just did it.

That is what I loved about this trip, what I love about this course, and an aspect I really admire in our school: the trust we have to do our own learning and the opportunities to do it in such a hands-on way.

Pictures by Mike Jackson and Becca Clayton

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