A Week of Exploration, Messy Adventures, Engineering & Creativity!

Cassidy gives us the scoop on Galax Middle School's Enrichment Week

Cassidy gives us the scoop on Galax Middle School's Enrichment Week

Both staff and volunteers were on-the-go last week for Enrichment Week at Galax Middle School. Enrichment week gives students a break from the everyday routine and allows them to gain experience outside of the classroom. BRDC provided students with three different programs to choose from including Pioneering, Crafting with Nature, and Exploration and Discovery.

Students in the Pioneering class learned how to construct a trebuchet like those used in medieval times to hurl objects during battle. Each student assembled their own miniature trebuchet and took it home at the end of the week. With the help of local carpenters Don Call and Don Pridgen, students learned about the different wood types used to construct the trebuchet and experimented with the hardness and weight of the different woods. After the trebuchets were assembled students then tested their machines out and experimented with different weights to make their objects project farther when thrown. 

Galax Middle School students experimented with the densities of different species of wood by sawing and nailing for the Pioneering Class.

At the end of the week, students took a field trip to Matthews State Forest to see a life-size trebuchet in action!

Students in the Exploration and Discovery class learned about a different natural history subject everyday. Students jumped in the creek Monday to find aquatic insects by using a seine in Clearfork Creek in Matthews State Forest. Each student found their own specimen and wrote details about the specimen in their nature journals, then identified the specimen using a guidebook. 

On Tuesday, students learned about tracks, scat, and animal signs. Students used guidebooks to learn the differences of feline and canine tracks then hiked in search wildlife signs. Students found evidence of a woodpecker searching for insects on a tree, saw dog tracks on the trail, and observed animal scat left by a red fox.

On Wednesday, students learned about trees commonly found in Matthews State Forest. At the beginning of the day students were given hints about different tree species such as acorn caps, leaves, and twigs and were tasked with finding the species in their guidebook. After completing the activity students explored the woods to complete a tree scavenger hunt! 

Students adventured to New River Trail State Park on Thursday where they learned about the geology of the Blue Ridge from USGS scientist Arthur Merschat. 

To end the week of Exploration and Discovery students searched for birds at Matthews State Forest.

During the Crafting with Nature program, volunteers Pam Evans and Amelia Hulth helped students channel their inner artist as they hiked through Matthews State Forest to gain inspiration and tools for creating masterpieces!

On Monday, students drew natural objects they found while hiking along the trail and then used tempera paint to color the objects and observe the different textures and patterns left by the plants.

For Tuesday's activity, students hiked and discovered a praying mantis egg casing and katydid eggs. They practiced sketching images that had similar hues (landscapes, trees, dead flowers) then used those sketches as the rough draft for water color paintings, using water colors they made by grinding different sedimentary rocks into a paste and adding water.

On Wednesday, students learned about the different methods of working with clay. They experimented with pinch pots, coil building, and slab construction.

I believe these kids really gained a new appreciation of nature through art. I am pleased to have been a part of it.
— Pam Evans

Thursday started off with a hike where students learned the differences between Virginia creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, and poison ivy. Students used invasive plants to create ornamental wreaths. Along the way they found usnea moss that had fallen to the ground from the rain the day before. The day ended with using a leather press and making leather bracelets.

On Friday, students made collages from magazines and ended the day creating more pottery, requested by the students. 

After both the Exploration and Discovery and Crafting with Nature sessions, students wrote in their journal about the events of the day. Journaling allows students to think deeper about what they have learned. Taking a few moments to reflect on the day's activities helps them retain the information they were given and express themselves through writing or drawing.

This week was a lot of fun for both students and instructors! I was lucky to be able to join every class for at least one day. Some days I taught the lesson and other days I took pictures and made crafts with the students. It's very rewarding to see the kids engaged and excited to learn about the various subjects.

The thought that kept occurring to me throughout the week was how awesome the volunteers are for the Blue Ridge Discovery Center! Each volunteer provided their own expertise and skills that were crucial to the programs. Thank you to all of our volunteers for helping us provide students with a great experience where they can explore, imagine, and learn in a fun environment. We could not do it without you.