Our third graders have been studying the importance of the wetlands on the Crocker Conservancy. Students put on their muck clothes and waded into the wetlands to discover which plants and insects were thriving in our calcareous muck fen.

Throughout this unit of study, we have explored the wetlands both as a filter for the stream and as a habitat for plants and animals. After reading about freshwater habitats, studying our watershed model, playing a game of tag to mimic chemical runoff, and listening for signs of life from the boardwalk, students felt ready for our wetlands field day, an event planned as the culmination of the unit. It was time to wade out into the muck for a much-anticipated closer look at the habitat.



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Brent Barriteau from the USDA returned as our soil and wetland plant expert, joined by Allyson Thomas, an Education and Program Support Specialist working with the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Maili Page also joined us from USDA this year. We learned from them about distinct wetland soils, water-loving plants, and the presence of pollution-sensitive aquatic invertebrates as a measure of water quality.

“It was a wonderful morning of learning, and we want to say a huge thank you to the three conservation professionals who came to share their expertise with us today. Their enthusiasm for the mud, the critters, and the plants was obvious as they shared their wealth of knowledge, but they also conveyed a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. What a great and lasting lesson to share with our students!”

~Mrs. Coutts, Lower School Science Teacher

Our young scientists rotated between three stations.

In the wetland itself, students used their senses to explore as Mr. Barriteau explained the colors and textures of the mud pulled up by a soil sampler. As we held the soil in our hands, students were fascinated to hear that a handful of healthy soil contains more organisms than there are humans on the earth.

Ms. Thomas led a group using a seine net to capture macroinvertebrates in Roseville Run. Two students held the net downstream while others did the macroinvertebrate shuffle, disturbing the stream bottom and sending macros into the waiting net. After capturing a sample, students worked with field guides to identify the aquatic critters they had uncovered.

Mrs. Slavin and our third visiting expert – Ms. Maili Page, also from the NRCS, splashed into Roseville Run with a third group, searching under rocks and sifting with nets to find evidence of life in the stream. Our favorite catches of the day were multiple crayfish, a couple of small fish, chunky crane fly larvae, dainty damselfly nymphs, and a gorgeous northern red salamander – which is actually the state salamander of Virginia!

Here at Powhatan, we use an approach called NEAL (Nature Enhanced Approach to Learning). NEAL is a lens through which we can teach any or all components of our curriculum. We use it to bring our students outside into the natural world and to bring the natural world indoors to our students. An authentic experience like the third grade Wetlands Field Day elevates the learning environment with a hands-on approach to applying their studies to the real world.

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