The River as an Educational Resource

There’s a lot of science to be discovered around a river in winter, even if it’s half dry. Check the tree branches and trunks for mosses and lichens and even buds. Explore large rocks near the river for life, and if part of the riverbed is dry, check for interesting rocks and notes their differences and learn how they were formed. A science teacher with a camera can produce a lot of her own visual aids on one river walk.

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Whether you are a home educator or a classroom teacher, if you have a river nearby, you have a wonderful educational resource. I live near the Salinas River and often hike the Salinas River Trail in Larry Moore Park in Paso Robles. It normally has water only a few months of the year, and only if there’s a normal amount of rain. Most of the year the Salinas River is subterranean. You don’t see the water. The river normally appears during winter, and I usually start searching for water around January. This year, though, we had our heavy rains start earlier than usual. So I went out in search of the river today, December 28, 2012. I found it.

Water in Salinas River
Water in Salinas River flowing north toward Niblick Bridge, Paso Robles

I followed the river bed for some distance, since I always get excited about what I see. Today it struck me how much science there is to investigate in the river and the riverbed.

Is there a story under this willow?
Is there a story under this willow?

As I walked along the edge of the river, I saw these small clumps of willows everywhere. Those closest to the west channel, which always stays full of water the longest, seemed to live on top of brush piles. Let’s take a closer look at one of these. Do you think a child might wonder how all this material happened to be under this willow? Might one try identifying different types of trees from what’s in these piles? What might one learn about a river by observing this small tree?

What's under this willow?
What’s under this willow?

Although the overall impression as one walks along the river in late December is colorless brown and tan branches and dead leaves, some plants show they are very much alive, or host things that are. On the ground beneath are new weed seedlings. There are red buds on some of the twigs. Moss and lichens also add color. Children turned loose with a hand-held microscope would have fun discovering this variety of mosses and lichens of different colors and identifying the new weed seedlings.

Winter Color in the Branches
Do you see all the colors here?

Children would also be fascinated at all they can see growing on a rock.

What grows on a rock in winter?
What grows on a rock in winter?

Not all growing on this rock is moss or lichen. We also see green seedlings. They need soil. How did soil get on this rock? How about the weed seeds? Is soil created on the rock itself? Or does it all blow into crevices? And why does the rock itself look the way it does? How was it created? There is geology as well as life science to be learned. All these questions can be answered through research and observation. As a teacher, you can inspire the curiosity that will make students want to solve the mysteries.

If you aren’t in a position to take your students on a field trip, you can at least make the trip to the river yourself with a camera. Take the pictures that will arouse interest in what you want students to learn. And don’t forget the videos. Watch the river’s current. Study the rocks in the riverbed to try to understand how they became what they are. You can even collect a few rocks to bring into the classroom. Here are some specimens I found.

Egg-Shaped Rock
Egg-Shaped Rock and Some Other River Rocks
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings

My Flip Camcorder Died This Week

I’m having to ween myself from taking video everywhere since my Flip camcorder died this week. I’m looking for a replacement. Any suggestions?

Shadow of Me and My Flip Camcorder in Action on a Walk Together
Shadow of Me and My Flip Camcorder in Action on a Walk Together

My Flip has gone almost everywhere with me for over a year. It has walked with me and recorded my conversations with people and the words of speakers at events. Just four days ago I used it to tape a pair of birds courting. Then, later in the day, I wanted to tape them in a different place and my Flip wouldn’t turn on. There was no friendly electronic chirp when I pressed the power button, but I was sure the batteries weren’t drained. Here I was, all ready to go for a photo walk, and my trusty Flip was incapacitated.  I haven’t walked without my Flip in so long I almost didn’t go.

On the walk, I regretted no one would hear the brook or the birdsong but me. Instead of being able to scan the tree with the broken branch so my blog readers could see it all connected, I had to break it into three separate pictures that didn’t really do the same job. When I passed the horses, I couldn’t get their conversation on tape. I almost felt I’d lost part of myself. For sure I lost an important tool.

So today I decided to see if there was any way to resurrect it. I called Flip tech support, hoping, I guess, for a miracle. After an hour with chat at the end of which my messages no longer went through, I called. I worked with phone support, who reminded me my camera was no longer under warranty. I did know that, but I’d hoped my camera would outlive its warranty. We tried deleting everything from the Flip and updating the software. We tried jumpstarting it plugged into the computer. Nothing worked. It was truly dead, after only about 14 months of use.  It’s now back in the box it came in.

My Flip Camcorder in the Box It Came In
My Flip Camcorder in the Box It Came In

Now I must replace it, since I’m supposed to be the videographer for an event in mid-April. I’ve spent  a good part of today reading reviews on line. Though I love my Flip, I really am hoping to get something that will last a bit longer. If you, my readers, have a suggestion for a simple to use and easy to carry camcorder, I’d love your suggestions. I prefer something that does not rely completely on a rechargeable battery pack that can give out in the middle of an event.

Meanwhile, I will have to rediscover traveling with only a still camera. Or learn to operate its video features — if I could only find the my English version of the manual.