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5th graders to go Barrier Island

5th grade AIG students wearing their Barrier Island t-shirts.

At the early hour of 6am on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, fourteen Union Elementary AIG students met at Monroe Crossing anticipating three days of adventure on a barrier island. Two buses had been chartered to carry the AIG students from six Union County elementary schools to go to Barrier Island Environmental Education Center located on Seabrook Island about 30 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. They finally arrived just in time for lunch.

After carrying their belongings to the respective cabins, they headed over to the dining hall where they saw their schedules posted for the three days they were to be on the island. The students participated in four two-hour classes:

  1. Seining - using a long net to catch creatures near the shore;
  2. Let’s Sea - a walk through the dunes, up the beach, and into the edge of a salt marsh to a mud pit;
  3. Claws and Woodstalk - crabbing and a walk through a maritime forest; 
  4. Need a Friend - challenges which depend on students working together to solve problems.

They also were able to participate in challenges (puzzles), field games, the Virginia Reel and other dances, and a camp fire program. 

The first class was seining. After a session where they reviewed the parts of a fish, the students headed for the beach. There they used a large seining net to catch specimens from the edge of the beach near the mouth of the North Edisto River. The students were thrilled to catch a large blue crab, several jellyfish and comb jellies. They also caught a mullet which tried to jump out of the large bucket used to hold any specimens that might be examined later. Inside was a touch tank which held an assortment of interesting creatures: flounder, sea robin, anemones, sea cucumber, large whelk, star gazer, and more.

During a second class the students formed a line at the edge of a make-believe barrier island and by handing sand down the line and then dumping it, the students experienced how barrier islands are actually formed and constantly changing. They collected interesting shells, corals, and other items as they walked up the beach. One student found a moon snail attached to a tulip shell. As the students watched the snail, it raised its shell and moved slightly. It was probably trying to drill a hole in the tulip shell with its radula in an attempt to get a meal.

On up the beach the students entered a salt marsh. Some nibbled on glasswort which tastes similar to a salty pickle. As they walked they observed the fiddler crabs scurrying across the surface of the mud since the tide was at its lowest level. The periwinkle snails were attached to the salt marsh cord grass called spartina. If a snail were plucked from the spartina and held quietly, it would extend its foot and crawl on a student’s arm. When removed, it would pull up its foot and close up with the operculum sealing the opening for protection.

At the end of the walk, the students had the opportunity to get into a mud pit at the edge of the marsh. As we sat in the mud an enormous blue crab surfaced from the mud about a foot away. When the naturalist told us we had to leave, we reluctantly emerged from that glorious mud pit a muddy, motley crew.

In a third class the students walked about a mile to a creek in the salt marsh. Since the tide had reached its highest point and the mud at the base of the spartina or cord grass was now covered with brackish water and all the fiddler crabs were hidden. The students sat on a floating dock and lowered bait of raw chicken necks tied to a cord around a dowel in an attempt to catch crabs. At least one pair did catch a crab only to have the crab turn loose just as the string holding the bait and the crab reached the surface.

The students looked at three crabs and observed that these were all male crabs whereas the crab caught in the seining net had been a female. From the crab dock, the students walked though a maritime forest which was growing on ancient sand dunes. Mrs. Gardner spotted some grotesque black shapes growing on a tree. Our naturalist told us that this was a fungus that was growing on the bay trees and was killing them.

On the tops of horizontal branches of the live oaks, we spotted clumps of resurrection ferns. The interesting thing about this fern is that in times of drought, it turns brown and appears dead; however, when it rains, this fern turns green and springs up, appearing fresh and lively—thus resurrected. We also saw a yaupon holly tree that has vomitus in its Latin or scientific name. No, we did not try a leaf to see if the name was warranted.

In the fourth class, Need a Friend, the students worked together to solve problems. They would make attempts, give advice, have discussions followed by more attempts. After much work, the students were able to successfully complete four problems.

All the students at the camp participated in a program called Zero Food Waste in which students were urged to only place on their plates what they intended to eat, to take a small portion until they were sure they really liked that particular food, then to take more. The students from Union Elementary had zero food waste in all but one meal. The food was good and the students ate as much as they desired.

In preparation for the trip the students had studied various aspects of the coastal environment. The naturalists were pleasantly surprised at the knowledge exhibited by the Union students. As a result of their preparation, the students were able to absorb the material taught by the naturalists and to experience what they had been studying back at school. Ask them about gastropods, bivalves, echinoderms, tides, lateral lines and operculums on fish.

We want to thank our parent chaperones for making our trip possible: Holly Gardner, Hourn Hach, and Donnie Hagler. We would also like to thank Kyra Gunn from Unionville Elementary and Richard Wickfors from Fairview Elementary for planning the trip and working out all the logistics necessary.


Written by: Ruth Rowe, AIG Teacher
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 by Jennifer Williams

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