Teaching at Bark Lake this week

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Augering through the ice.

Each year during the last week of January, we bring our Grade 10s up to Bark Lake Leadership Centre for the second half of our annual 12-day residential field credit course in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems. It is a busy 6 days, with each day starting with a 7am wake-up then teaching both indoors and out through to 10pm each evening – a lot of work for students and teachers both, but one of the most memorable experiences of our students’ high school years at SJK.

Today, for example, half the class spent part of the morning on the frozen lake augering through 37.5cm of ice to collect data to create dissolved oxygen and temperature profiles for the lake in winter. We then compared today’s data to the readings we took in the autumn (from a boat) to better understand how lakes “turn over”. The other half of the class learned about the intricacies of snow (not much more Canadian than that, I suppose) by cutting snow profiles and analyzing the nature and density of the layers to create a history of snow fall and the changes to the snow over the last two months.

Transferring plankton samples to a collection jar.
Transferring plankton samples to a collection jar.

Tonight, students are learning about water pollution and wildlife populations. Tomorrow night, we have a local trapper coming to explain how trapping is used as a management practice to prevent wildlife populations from out-stripping their available resources, all while demonstrating how he skins a beaver. At first, students are a bit squeamish and not sure how to react, but they quickly warm to Rob’s quiet demeanour, his stories and his personal connections to the wildlife.

It is a terrific, immersive course allowing students to explore different ways of looking at the world and interacting with it. As well, they begin to develop a different attitude towards winter, realizing that you can have fun in the snow on a cold day without being on the slopes skiing or snowboarding. The last two days have been perfect examples of near perfect winter weather: clear blue skies drenched in sunshine with the thermometer hovering between –20°C and –10°C, although the wind chill made it feel like –30 first thing this morning!

We’ll finish up the week with a few more case studies, a ½ day on the high ropes course, a unit on furbearers and an afternoon of cross country skiing punctuated by our annual fire-lighting contest. The winner is the first group to build a fire in the snow and bring a paper cup of snow to a rolling boil with only a book of matches and their own ingenuity. Of course, it’s a requirement (and a foregone conclusion) that the teachers always win!

I must admit to being fortunate to be able to have this experience when so many environmental programmes, field trips and outdoor experiences have been cut from school programs. This course has been running for over 30 years and is a right of passage at the school, one of those important, shared experiences which all our alumni can relate to.

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