Sally in the outdoor classroom

The Perfect Teaching Moment

Perfection is a difficult thing to achieve. I usually only see it while watching Olympic performances or admiring a flower.  But this past week, Clark Elementary students from Issaquah opened the door a little wider for me when we were on a field study trip to Cybil Madeline Park. Teacher Tracey Guillen’s 4thgrade class had previously received a lesson on salmon and healthy streams from Greenway educators and had analyzed a stream environment at Tiger Mountain. They chose to continue their lessons by participating in a volunteer ecological restoration event at Cybil Madeline Park. Half the group pulled invasive English ivy off of trees while the other half measured the water quality of Issaquah Creek.

Enthusiastic students barely contained their delight as they found a “salamander tree” where six amphibians were hiding. Concepts taught in class were readily apparent and the students pointed them out eagerly. Spawning salmon gave us a show, swimming through the riffles (a rocky shoal or sandbar lying just below the surface of a waterway), and perhaps the best of all, a salmon died in front of the students. It was both a sad and happy moment for the students when the salmon died because, as they explained, “Now that it is dead it will put nutrients in the water.” The students also observed that the woody debris created pools where they could see the salmon resting. Salmon eggs floated by on the silty creek bottom as they yelled, “That river needs more cobble (rocks) on the bottom so the eggs can stick!” These students really “got it”!

Two female students were tasked with the job of finding macroinvertebrates (animals in the water environment without backbones that are visible without magnification.) They captured these creatures, categorized them and educated the rest of the class on their results. It was discovery learning at its best, a perfect teaching moment, as the girls figured out the relationship between macroinvertebrates and their tolerance for polluted water.

The intent, happy expressions of the girls as they worked together will now go on my list of perfect images- right up there with watching Olympic performances and admiring flowers.