Diane Ludwig, third-grade teacher at Pine Elementary School, asked her kids what they wanted to learn about in science. Their emphatic answer: FROGS!
“It was their interest that led to this choice,” said Ludwig.
So these days her cozy classroom in Pine is graced by two fish tanks inhabited by enormous, three-inch-long tadpoles. It’s easy for the kids to come into class every day and watch them transform into frogs.
After they turn into frogs, Ludwig will donate the amphibians to the eighth-grade science class for dissection — a case of sustainable education.
To help her class understand the frog’s habitat, Ludwig decided to add a field trip to her lesson. She believes having the kids interact with nature helps them to learn the subject.
Her instincts are good. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” Richard Louv explored the relationship children have with nature. He concluded that children come alive in nature, exploring bugs, waterways and woods, but because of modern life, they receive too little time outdoors. The result is the “nature-deficit syndrome” where children actually have a fear of the outdoors.
Not Ludwig’s third-grade class, though.
On a Friday morning, Ludwig, a cheerful woman with a bright smile and dancing eyes, donned a pair of leaf earrings and a broad brimmed straw hat to pack all 11 of her students into two vans. Joining her on the trip, Pine-Strawberry School board member Margaret Parker (grandmother to third-grader Lexi Ward) and seventh-grade math teacher Scott Jacobson.
Elizabeth Cook, mother of third-grade student Haley, drove along in her own car.
Jacobson added depth to the trip because although he teaches math, he has a biology degree and an intense interest in all creatures that live in rivers.
He owns an array of nets, from small hand-held fishing nets to larger Seine nets, shaped in a square with a float on one edge. The user folds the net over and drags it through the water to scoop up whatever lurks in the river. Scooping stuff up from the river offered the kids an excellent chance to see what lies under water.
With Jacobson’s advice, Ludwig chose to drive to the East Verde River off of Houston Mesa Road. Arriving at the first crossing near Beaver Valley, all the kids jumped out of the vans, eager to explore and write down everything in packets Ludwig provided. She will teach them the scientific method of observation with these notes when they get back to class.
“OK third-graders! We’re going to write down what we see, hear, feel and smell,” said Ludwig.
“And taste!” piped up Placer Sewell, a small boy with huge enthusiasm for everything.
“Well ... I’d be careful about that,” said Ludwig.
Jacobson takes the lead. He’s selected two spots on the river to show the students two different places frogs could live. One section has slow moving water and the other a shallow waterfall. “I wanted to show the kids where the better habitat for frogs would be, but with all the rainfall last night, I doubt we’ll find frogs” said Jacobson.
The third-graders don’t care. They’re outside exploring rocks and trees, insects and critters.
“See the lizard up there?” asked Raci Miranda, a dark-haired girl wearing a Junior Ranger vest she got when visiting the Petrified Forest.
“Oh cool!” say the rest of the children, as they watch the lizard scamper away.
“OK third-graders, take a moment to sit and write,” said Ludwig.
The students settle themselves on a pile of rocks to observe what’s going on around them and take notes. Some finish before others.
“We’re waiting for Caitlin,” said Emili Mitchell, who’s wearing a bright pink shirt with a butterfly on the front.
“What’s she doing?” asks Raci.
“She’s thinking,” said Ludwig.
“She likes to write everything very carefully. Oh! She’s done,” said Emili scooting off with her friends.
Across the way, a group watches Jacobson as he carefully runs his net over the bottom of the river.
“Mr. J found a crawfish!” said Dwayne Shank. Dwayne wears a red baseball cap and a blue shirt and bounces from activity to activity.
The children crowd around as Jacobson holds the crawdad avoiding the pincers.
“Crawdads are not natural to this environment. Fish and Game is happy if you catch as many as you want. They ruin the habitat for the creatures that are native to this river,” said Jacobson, throwing the crawdad out of the river.
The day progresses with the vans moving off to the Water Wheel parking lot. Hiking up to the waterfall area, the kids imagine Indian ruins in the rocks. Some even see footprints of Indians.
Sitting down for lunch on a pile of rocks, Dwayne points to the rocks exclaiming, “Look at that orange stuff on the rocks!”
Jacobson takes a look. “That’s orange lichen,” he said.
Finishing up their lunch, the children discover piles of claws and bodies of washed up crawdads along the shore dumped by the recent storm.
“I’m going to take some home!” said Emma Paine, who wears pink pants and a pink backpack, holding up a sandwich bag full of dead crawdads.
Jacobson decides to explore a pond covered with algae. He tells the kids he believes this could be frog territory.
All he finds are crawdads and river snails, though. The kids don’t care, they eagerly check out everything.
Hiking back to the vans the students chatter on about all of the things they experienced.
“I liked the Indian spots I saw,” said Placer.
“I liked my rock chair,” said Cheyenne Boyce.
“I liked eating my lunch,” said Blake McRae.
“I liked the same things Placer did,” said Bella.
Ludwig decides this first trip was a success. “Maybe we didn’t find frogs, but the crawdads were a huge hit,” said Jacobson.