Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From Detritus, Sturdy Shoots Can Grow

Yesterday I got to do one of the favorite aspects of my job:  I got to go on a field trip with a class.  Yesterday, I went with a Biology class to the Ann Kolb Nature Center in Broward County.

The Ann Kolb Nature Center is an amazing place, a preserve of mangrove trees and natural habitat.

I love the casual feel of a field trip, and I'm always humbled at how welcome I feel, both by the students and by the faculty member.  After all, it's not all pleasure for me. I'm there to observe the field trip, much the way I'd conduct a classroom observation.

How wonderful it is to get away from my office world of computer screens.  How great to learn new things.  For example, mangrove trees are one of the few specimens that can tolerate having wet roots in brackish water.  They thrive on this condition that would kill most trees.

And they're one of the few trees that can move.  Well, not exactly like you and I move.  But by sending out new roots, they'll appear to have moved inches or feet away from where they started out.

I learned about detritus, that delightful muck created mainly by decomposing leaves.  This detritus makes a great incubator of new trees.

We learned about how the trees grow a bulbous thing that helps them heal from things that bite them.  As one student said, "Scabs!"

We didn't see much wildlife.  Often, the protected nature of the park means that birds find shelter, but not yesterday.  We saw a bird of prey overhead and a lone seagull and some birds that may have been herons.

I never took these kind of field trips when I was in college Biology classes.  We did dissecting, but we never got out of the building to have the naturalist's experience of observing the natural world.  What a shame!

One of the reasons why our Science students get to go on these field trips is because we're not really set up in terms of our lab to do dissection.  So, out of necessity, Science faculty created these great excursions.  Our Marine Science and Oceanography students routinely go snorkeling to see the coral reefs before they disappear.  Science faculty go to local parks, like the Ann Kolb Nature Center, and they go to explore the Everglades.

Higher Ed folks spend a lot of time trying to decide whether or not we're offering the same kind of rigorous education that colleges and universities used to give students.  As I go on field trips, I can say that on some level, students are getting a better Science education than I got.  And in many cases, they get to see habitats that aren't found throughout most of the rest of the U.S.; we have unique coral reefs, and since mangroves can't tolerate cold, very few other students will have a chance to learn about them by touching them and tasting them.

Yes, tasting the leaves--some mangroves deal with excess salt by extracting them through their leaves.  Students weren't forced to lick the leaves, of course.  They could simply observe the salt deposits.

I'm certain that I never interacted with the natural world in that way when I was a student.  It was great to remember that some of the administrator work that I do behind the scenes enables these kind of student interactions with the natural world.

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