By JOSH NICHOLS
Daily Press writer
All the best books, overhead slides and computer software in the world can't top getting out in nature and experiencing the ecosystem first hand.
Especially for a group of sometimes restless fifth-grade students.
Recently, fifth graders at Craig Intermediate School had the opportunity to take a field trip to Deer Lodge Park where they learned about the environment and how the ecosystem works.
Three teams of fifth graders took buses to the park on separate days.
Students from Debbie Frazier's classes went Monday, Oct. 1. They spent the night in the Maybell Elementary School gym, and spent all day Tuesday experiencing the outdoors.
"The purpose of the program is to take science objectives on ecology and design activities students can learn from," Frazier said.
Students were taught by workers from Dinosaur National Monument about the food chain and the history of the area.
During the two-day trip, students took part in eight different sessions taught by instructors from Dinosaur National monument.
In one session students were given tongs, spatulas and other utensils and were asked to pick up food from logs and buckets.
The goal of the exercise was for students to experience a bird's existence when it attempts to pick up food with its beak.
In another session students tested water in the Yampa River for nitrates and phosphates, and tried to discover different species of fish by catching them with nets.
Nathan Hardin, a student who participated in the trip, said one of his favorite activities was when the students were given spatulas and had to pick food up with them.
"It taught us how birds and animals adapt and how they are different," he said.
Hardin said the last day was the most fun.
"The teacher took us to the river and we got to jump in it," he said. "I just thank our teacher for letting us go on this trip and for letting us go swim."
Challyn Pfifer, another fifth grader at CIS, said she enjoyed a hike that the facilitators took the students on in which they had an opportunity to be archeologists.
She also liked the food pyramid session, in which she learned that the ecosystem is made up of producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, top consumers and decomposers.
The decomposers are the "FBI," she said, the fungus, bacteria and insects. Pfifer didn't want to see Tuesday end.
"I was bummed because I didn't want to leave and go back to school," she said.
Students also took part in a plant scavenger hunt. Instructors pointed out different kinds of plant life and explained how the plants have been forced to adapt to the climate in Northwest Colorado.
"All activities tied into science and social studies objectives," Frazier said.
Students are offered a different way to learn on the field trip, Frazier said.
"It's an opportunity for students to be out in a place where they can connect with what happens in the environment," she said. "It makes more sense to them."
It also gives students a better appreciation of the world in which they live in and makes them become more environmentally conscious.
"It makes them want to take care of 'their place,'" she said. "It's a great way to get to know kids outside of school. It's a lot of fun."
The outdoor education experience includes science and social studies, Frazier said, but English is also incorporated into the learning experience.
Students wrote poems about their experience when they returned and will also write newspaper articles about their experience.
"It goes beyond just a field trip because it very much ties into the curriculum," she said.
At night, everyone sat around a campfire.
Students told ghost stories and the facilitators played guitar and sang campfire songs with the students.
"It's such a rich experience for the students to be out there learning from someplace other than behind a desk," Frazier said. "The trip is well worth it."