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Vanguard Educator Connects Students to Real-life Science

Seventh and eighth graders at Vanguard Charter Academy recently had the opportunity to get their feet wet – literally – by digging into science and getting out in the great outdoors.

Led by Jeff  Verkaik, science teacher at Vanguard, students trek annually into the wilderness, or rather the undeveloped edges of Buck Creek, to learn how humans affect the creek, look for trash, and learn how other factors, like run-off, impact the area. Donned in waders and armed with nets, students searched the waters for macro invertebrates to identify and score the creek based on their findings, as well as measuring cubic gallons of water.

“I want my students to fall in love with nature, but often times kids who live in urban areas think that real nature is not accessible to them, but Buck Creek is an example of nature within walking distance to our school,” said Mr. Verkaik. “Kids can see deer, hold a crayfish, and identify plants. You can see their passion and love of nature expand in the short time we are out there.”

Students made the half-mile trip to the creek by foot, then proceeded to travel through the undeveloped area along the creek a mile and back, totaling three miles when they were all said and done. The project includes two visits to the creek to monitor the health of the creek.

Mr. Verkaik wants his students to love science, see the world they live in through a scientific lens, and always wonder when they encounter things. He believes each of these things are accomplished through doing science outdoors in the real world.
“Using places like the creek, I can model these things for them,” said Mr. Verkaik. “It also creates a level of engagement that is really hard to match in the classroom.”

With a challenging year permitting few field trips, students were excited about this project and the opportunity to be out in nature. Many of the students have never touched a leech or crayfish before, so it was a new experience for many. Mr. Verkaik encourages them to get out and explore nature.