Field biology actually studying plants and animals up close and personal is something your average middle school student doesn't normally get to experience.
That's why Pine-Strawberry teacher Chris Kline's thematic unit in Field Biology was a popular addition to the curriculum. Thematic units were introduced for the first time this year so Pine-Strawberry middle school teachers could teach what they love while also incorporating an element of fun into the learning process for students.
For 18 of Kline's students that meant a trek into the forest for some hands-on lessons. His goal in teaching the unit is to give his students an appreciation of the natural world and make them more appreciative of the organisms in the forest where they live.
"I really enjoy doing that kind of stuff," Kline said. "It was what I used to do when I was a naturalist in Indiana."
His students liked it too.
They learned all about plants, including how to distinguish the different kinds of pine trees from one another. To test their newly-gained knowledge, they had to find specially marked trees and plants and answer questions about them.
But the lesson that seemed to interest the students most was building scent bait so they could attract elk and study their footprints.
To do this, the students had to mix blood meal with elk urine and plaster of paris.
Then they filled ice cube trays with the finished product, described by one student as a "soggy, disgusting mess," and waited for it to harden. Next they broke into teams and placed the scent baits in four foot-square areas raked smooth so the tracks would be more distinctive.
Minus a tape measure, the students decided to use seventh grader Sam Payton, who stands exactly four feet tall, as a makeshift but willing measuring device.
A week later the class returned to see what kinds of animal tracks their smell baits had attracted. Fortunately for the forest, but unfortunately for their experiment, a heavy monsoon rain had wiped out all but one set of tracks.
"(There were) no really good ones," Kline said. "The big downpour pretty much wiped out the nice soft dirt we had prepared so carefully."
While she didn't exactly advance the cause of science, seventh grader Mollee Lee did lighten the mood of her disappointed classmates by leaving several sets of artificially produced elk tracks for them to find.
"Her tracks were actually pretty good," Kline said.
The teacher, in his third year at Pine Elementary School, was quite impressed with how much his students already knew about the forest they live in.
"The interest level was higher than I expected, plus a lot of them seem to have already seen a lot of wildlife in the forest," he said. "Usually when you take kids out in the woods, they have a tendency to be loud so the animals run away before they see them."
But even though mother nature rained on their experience, students got a unique look at an elk back in the classroom.
Kline is licensed to take road kill and utilize it for educational purposes.
"I had an elk head in my freezer, so we dissected it," he said. "How many opportunities do students have to look at an elk's brain?"
Besides the brain, students got a close look at the special scent glands located under the eyes and learned how to determine age by examining the teeth.
During the second and third quarters, Kline's students will be involved in "orienteering" learning how to use a map and compass to find their way around the forest. Then, in the final quarter, they'll focus on the water creatures of the Rim country.
"I just enjoy being out in the woods, and I think it's important for students who live here to learn about this sort of stuff," Kline said.