How Did You Spend Your Summer?

Four educators share their experiences from CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms field trips.

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This Teacher Can't Stop at Just One Trip

"I had such a great time that when I got home I registered for a five-day trip that would take me back to Smith and then to Fox Island."
written by Marilou McCrosky - King William High School Science Teacher

Marilou McCroskyMarilou McCrosky, right. Photo credit: CBF Staff

As the school year gets underway, I am looking forward to sharing with my students the pictures and ideas I gained from my summer vacation on the Chesapeake Bay, a unique and wonderful world less than 20 miles from where I live.

I have lived in Northern Neck of Virginia all my life and have traveled to Tangier Island a few times on day trips. But those trips didn’t prepare me for the world I was introduced to on the CBF trips I took this summer.

First, I took a CBF Chesapeake Classrooms that was designed for Hanover elementary school teachers. I teach at King William High School and am interested in learning more about KWHS’s place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We spent the first day canoeing on the Chickahominy River, where I learned that the “stumps” that surround the bald cyprus trees are really a root system that helps the tree adapt to growing in water.

We spent the second day at Pearson’s Corner Elementary School. The campus is filled with ingenious projects that were spearheaded and maintained by several teachers in our group. I got to see what completed projects look like and am now inspired to get service projects in place at my high school.

We spent the last three days of our trip at CBF's education center on Smith Island at Tylerton, MD. We set crab pots, went scraping and progging, talked to people in the town and did crafts at night. Loren and Wes, the educators on the island, helped us learn about watermen and their life on the island. We learned to appreciate another way of life and we put a “face” on the people who live out on the Bay islands.

I had such a great time that when I got home I registered for a five-day trip that would take me back to Smith and then to Fox Island. Luckily I did not realize that we would have no air-conditioning on Fox, because I might have missed the experience of a life time if I had let that little detail discourage me.

Four of us left for Smith Island via the Chesapeake Breeze out of Fairport, Virginia. One of the teachers had been on my last trip and the other two teachers had been on a previous trip together. I quickly found out that one of them also lives in Northumberland County and that we have many mutual friends. We got to Smith Island ahead of the rest of the group, which was coming from Crisfield, so we went to the store and ate the very best crab cake and soft crab sandwiches on the planet!

We were joined by the others shortly after we finished lunch. It was a very eclectic group. We had teachers from all over the watershed including the mountains. Some teachers were pre-service (there was a group of four students from Johns Hopkins who would be starting student teaching) some taught elementary and primary students, some were secondary teachers, there was an author of books about the bay, and our ages ranged from early 20’s to over 60. With such a diverse group, many different ideas and experiences were shared and discussed. I wish I had written more down but I have their email addresses so I know where to go for great ideas.

We set crab pots and ate crabs; we went progging and scraping, and visited a magical pelican rookery. We talked to folks in town and poked into the church, Captain Waverly’s wood shop, and ate a marvelous dinner in town. And we enjoyed the air-conditioning.

We left for Fox Island on Wednesday. Fox Island is a gem. From the composting Clivus toilet to riding the bike to get water pressure, there is a lesson around every corner on Fox. We canoed to another section of the island to try seining and to see terns and black skimmers, and went oystering off Tangier on protected oyster rock.

Night on Fox Island is magical. One night we saw a magnificent (natural) fireworks show! Bright orange lightening flashed all around us, then the wind gusted up and blew rain onto the porches. On our last night several of us went out on the dock to see the comb jellies put on a light show. We sat on the dock to watch the jellies flash and someone suggested a song, and then we sang every song we could think of -- mostly Christmas carols because those were the only songs that everyone knew the words to. It was a spiritual experience that was made even more amazing because one of us (not me!) is an accomplished soloist. Imagine sitting on a dock, in the dark with just enough breeze to cool you off and keep the bugs away. Now hear the words to “Ava Maria” in a strong lyrical voice. That was just a moment in the experience that is Fox Island.

The CBF leaders that I got to work with, Allyson and Gwen, are truly talented teachers. It is because of their leadership that we were able to form the deep connections that we did. They know how to structure activities and when to back off and let learning happen. What an experience those trips on the Chesapeake Bay were. I can’t wait to show my students pictures of me sitting in a mud pool in the middle of a wetland. I hope it will win me some “cool” points!

Marilou McCrosky teaches science at King William High School. She attended Teachers on the Bay July 6-10, 2009 and Islands on the Bay August 3-7, 2009.

Teachers are Students, Too

"As a current student myself, I constantly ask the question: 'What purpose does this new information serve me and what can I do with it?' "
written by Lauren Maguire - Anne Arundel County Student Teacher

Lauren MaguireLauren Maguire. Photo credit: CBF Staff

When I first signed up for the Chesapeake Classrooms program, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the trip. How often do a group of educators leave the four walls of the classroom and get the chance to interact with one another? I think other teachers share my belief that for children to learn, they must be engaged. Part of getting students engaged is presenting them with interesting and relevant material. As a current student myself, I constantly ask the question: “What purpose does this new information serve me and what can I do with it?”

Chesapeake Classrooms pulls educators together and takes them outside their environment and onto the Bay, which we need to remember is still ‘our’ environment. The smell of dry erase markers, the sound of chairs being slid across tile and the sight of students are replaced with the smell of salty air, the sound of a rookery and the sight of sea grasses dancing not far from the water's surface.

Our journey begins in Crisfield, MD where we board the ferry to Smith Island. On Smith, we begin to learn about the Bay’s inhabitants and the threats and challenges that face them. But more important, we learn about what the Bay provides us, how the decisions we make affect it, and the interplay between us and our environment. Our time on Smith also involves meeting people who live on the island, people who are strongly affected by the condition of the Bay as their livelihood as watermen depends on it. We learn that as individuals we can make a difference to the Bay, and that the more we know about it, the better our decisions are likely to be. These lessons stick with us because we see it first hand and we are immersed in hands-on activities -- sorting through oysters, releasing crab pots, combing through grasses. From Smith, we ferry over to Fox Island, even more secluded than Smith. Here, we are the only inhabitants….well, human inhabitants. At Fox, we learn more about protecting our environment as we canoe around the island and muck through a marsh. And we learn that we can survive with a little solar power and no air conditioning!

We know that students learn best by doing and this idea is reinforced as we ourselves learn through hands-on activities. Yet, we also know that not every classroom has the luxury of sending its students out onto the Bay, so we discuss how to bring the Bay to our classroom. Our CBF leader suggests classroom activities that simulate what we ourselves have done out on the water. As teachers with a wide range of experiences, from volunteer work to decades of instruction, we bounce around ideas about what else we can do, benefiting from the talents and creativity in our group. Some of us teach six-year-olds and others 16-year-olds, but we still come up with themes that apply to all students.

I come back from my trip on a high. I am excited about getting into the classroom and sharing what I have experienced and the resources I have gained with my students. The week after our trip, I am tubing down the Potomac River with friends and see a can floating beside me. Without hesitation I work my tube over to retrieve it from the water as a man fishing off the shore watches. As I pick up the can, I look back at him and shout “Save the Bay!” Then and there I know that this trip has changed me and lit a fire in me to treat my environment better and to share that idea with others.

I pose the questions again: “What purpose does this new information serve me and what can I do with it?” The answer-- our environment is the livelihood of many, the health of all, and is influenced by every individual. If that isn't relevant or interesting enough for students, I'm not sure what is.

Lauren Maguire is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who is student teaching in Anne Arundel County this year. She participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms "Islands on the Bay" trip August 3-7.

A Reason to Learn; A Reason to Care

"This was an opportunity for teachers to network and create new ideas about integrating the Chesapeake Bay watershed into the classroom."
written by Becky Crowther - Northumberland Elementary School Teachers Aid

Becky CrowtherBecky Crowther. Photo credit: CBF Staff

My summer with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Chesapeake Classrooms professional development courses began with July 6-10's Teachers on the Bay. Fourteen teachers from Virginia, Maryland, D.C., New York, and Colorado attended this week long workshop. Group educators Bill Portlock and Yancey Powell, along with teacher mentor Sherry Rollins, guided our group on a wonderful adventure through the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay. The fun continued on August 3-7th's Islands on the Bay course with Allyson Gibson, which provided a most intimate introduction to island life as we investigated the many relationships between social and natural systems. We explored water conditions, aquatic life, birds, and human interaction with these valuable resources.

This was an opportunity for teachers to network and create new ideas about integrating the Chesapeake Bay watershed into the classroom. The teachers performed many of the same team building exercises that students do when school groups attend CBF field experiences during the academic year. "Marsh Hawk hide-and-seek" and seal dives in the sulfurous mud were among the teachers', as well as students', favorite activities.

We boated, paddled, and marsh mucked our way into learning more about the Chesapeake Bay. Each activity required team work from loading the boats to scientific investigations to preparing our meals. Through CBF's field investigations, floating classrooms, and remote island accommodations, students and teachers are separated from their hurried lifestyles and physical possessions to discover a reason to care about the environment. This reason to care will lead to a reason to change their human impact on the valuable resource of the Chesapeake Bay. My findings were very much in line with CBF's premise: "To care for the Bay, you must love it. To love it, you must know it. To know it, you must experience it."

Other favorite moments:

The amount of content that CBF's employees and guest speakers taught each day was impressive. While sharing lesson ideas, proggin' the shoreline, and conversing over coffee watching each day's sunrise, we formed great friendships. It was also impressive how CBF staff presented Bay information using all of our senses. We tasted the marsh grasses, smelled the salty air, felt the weak pinch of a newly-shed soft crab, and we heard the stories about their love of land and water from a unique group of islanders.

Written by Becky Crowther, who is a teachers aid for 5th grade at Northumberland Elementary School. She attended the Teachers on the Bay course as well as the Islands on the Bay 2 course with CBF.

The Summer I Learned to See

"I cannot decide if I learned more about environmental issues or about how to be an effective teacher!"
written by Claire Gardner - Montgomery County Elementary School Teacher

This is the summer I learned to see. I’ve had my eyes open for nearly a half century and my vision corrected for almost 40 years. However, nothing has sharpened my perception of the delicate balance needed for the survival of our estuary like the week I spent with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

This is due, in no small part, to the dedication and devotion of the CBF educators who truly appreciate the treasure of the bay. Our group spent a week led by Claire Jaeger with collaboration from Krispen Parke, Melissa Simmons and Paul Bayne.

The adventure started in Crisfield, Maryland with a boat ride aboard the Lonnie Carroll II. Captain Charles led our group to Port Isobel where Krispen took the reins in charging us to think about our actions while giving us the ‘use, don’t abuse’ ground rules for living on this marshy island-outpost of Tangier.

To get us in the right frame of mind, Claire and Krispen had us think about our core values when considering the environment. We then needed to dig into our past, and recount the actions that created those core values. Upon further reflection, we were asked to describe how those values are supported by our current actions and choices. This exercise resulted in a creative tree project where our core value was the trunk, our past actions represented the roots, and our present choices became the branches. This was a powerful exercise for me; perhaps I am finally appreciating the efforts of my parents and I ‘get’ it: Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, do without. This became my ‘trunk.’ As I assembled the roots and branches, it occurred to me that not only did they mirror each other visually, but also directly. As I listed an action for each root and a choice for each branch, I found that many were the same. I am certain that the tranquility of the setting and the direction of the leaders allowed for the discovery and expression of ideas that are often stifled by a busy lifestyle.

Captain Charles and Krispen led us on a crab pot setting excursion and scraping encounter. It doesn’t get better than the authentic experience; bait your pot, wait for the nod from the captain, and for a moment, feel like a waterman as you toss the pot over the side murmuring lucky words to bring a good catch. The scraping allowed us to become marine biologists for a while as we collected specimens for the aquarium back at the Port Isobel center. We were so absorbed in the activity; none of us could believe we hadn’t even left Tangier Sound.

The CBF staff must live by the mantra, ‘become one with the marsh.’ At the allowable tide-time, we were led on a marsh-mucking adventure. I will never forget the experience of standing with my eyes closed and feeling the trampoline effect caused by the jumping of group-mates to my right and left. We were all speechless as Krispen pressed a sturdy reed at least six feet down into the marsh. The heavy, thick detritus released hydrogen sulfide that will stay in our olfactory memory for quite some time!

Canoeing and progging followed the cleanup from the marsh mucking. There is no better way to clear your mind, than to float serenely while watching graceful egrets in their native habitat. To me, progging is a combination of treasure hunting and old-fashioned poking around. It was a treat to allow myself to wander and let my imagination take over: “Was this piece of glass from a shipwreck? Did a pirate drink from that bottle?” It was a place that made me feel powerful and weak at the same time. I felt powerful because I was in control; there were no clocks, no deadlines--just taking things as they came. Yet weak when I considered the strength of the weather and the forces of the water that had tumbled the broken glass, smoothing its sharp edges.

Our island visit was over much too soon. Shades of blue and green gave way to the dirty gray of concrete and macadam as we headed back on the beltway. The next day’s visit to the Clagett sustainable farm maintained by the CBF referenced the effects of the abundance of impermeable surfaces. After learning about organic farming, we helped to weed a small portion of the garden (for which we were rewarded with fresh greens!). The group was shocked into silence by the next activity. Melissa Simmons (CBF educator/farm manager) led an inquiry based discussion on land use. The education portion of the farm included an area that represented different types of land use such as: forests, contour strip-tilling for farming, suburban lawns, impervious surfaces (such as parking lots), etc. After discussing and considering the effects of rain on these surfaces, Melissa revealed that a collection-container was buried down-hill from each land-use sample. We made predictions about the amount of water that would be in each container and about the color and clarity of the water. If more people could witness the outcome of this experience, the fertilizer companies would be out of business! The suburban lawn collected neon green in its container. That image will stay with me for a long time and will definitely impact the decisions and choices I make. The trip also included a hay ride to visit and learn about the farm’s grass-fed beef cattle, and concluded with a hike along a nearly dry creek bed (due to the season) that feeds the Patuxent River.

Our final day was aboard the skipjack Stanley Norman out of Annapolis. Although we raised the sails in a dead calm, the return to the water was a welcome salve after being separated from Tangier for a day. CBF educator Paul Bayne led us through water quality testing experiments and oyster dredging. We collected two containers of bay water, placed oysters in one, and let the super-filterers go to work. It did not take long before measurable differences could be noted for clarity in the oyster-present water. The water testing revealed unhealthy levels of nitrogen, and all of our experiences from the week helped us draw conclusions and make connections.

The entire CBF staff involved with our Summer Immersion Course expertly led us through discussions and allowed us to make our own conclusions. I can not decide if I learned more about environmental issues or about how to be an effective teacher! As the skipjack made its way up Ego Alley for docking, we were asked to reflect and make one comment about the week. I think that many teachers have become slaves to test scores and measurable outcomes which have caused us to forget the root of all learning. The CBF course allowed us to remember that we all learn best through sensory experiences and by discovery. I can see clearly now; thank you for my new eyes.

Written by Claire Gardner, who teaches 1st and 2nd grade at Cedar Grove Elementary School. She attended the Past, Present, and Future of the Chesapeake Bay course June 21-26.

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