Kalynn Roggenstein, a junior at Payson High School (PHS), reached between the rocks to grab the gigantic spider.
Her classmates gasped at her boldness. They wanted nothing to do with the eight-legged creature until Roggenstein safely put the 2.5-inch-long arachnid in a sieve.
“We let everybody look at it,” she said, “then we took measurements and wrote down information to identify it.”
Roggenstein loves to study macro-invertebrates, the scientific name for spiders and other critters that have a hard outer shell.
She found the spider during a field trip with PHS science instructor Beverly Adams. Adams takes her ecology students to test the waters of the East Verde River to study the science of the environment, macro-invertebrates like the spider, are a vital part of the lesson.
Adams has her students take samples of the river at the second crossing of the East Verde near Whispering Pines, the first crossing near Beaver Creek and several sites off the Flowing Springs and East Verde Estates roads.
Adams has her students study the chemistry, biology and physics of the natural environment — all part of the study of ecology, a subset of biology.
“(It is) looking at relationships between living things and their environment,” said Adams. “Water is a huge topic, (the students) get bored with it.”
The students check the water to determine the chemicals from oxygen to nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorine, and fecal coliform — the amount of solid waste in the water.
The students analyze how the temperature and the volume of the flow of the water affect the river ecology.
She also has the students look at the trees to decide which dominate the area, their spacing, and size to analyze the health of the riparian forest.
And, of course, they study the macro-invertebrates, both in and out of the water.
Adams created the ecology class after working at PHS for a year as the biology and life science teacher. The idea originated with Cindy Pool, a PHS science teacher who tragically died in a biking accident.
Adams continued the field trip and now funds it with a grant from APS (Arizona Power Supply).
The field trip gives her students hands-on experience with the topic, as when Roggenstein found the spider.
Each trip offers a new adventure for Adams.
Roggenstein’s spider capture dominated this particular trip, but during past excursions students have embraced the value of waders, immersed themselves in a search for water macro-invertebrates or focused on collecting the chemistry data.
“You never know what they’ll take away from it,” said Adams.
One student became completely enamored with the waders Adams has her students use in the water. At first, hesitant to even try them on, he later told her he had asked his football coach if he could practice in them.
Another student wanted to wear them when they walked for graduation.
Adams was not sure either of them got their wish, but she enjoyed turning their perspective around.
The one thing that never changes on these ecology trips is asking questions.
Adams smiles as she recounts how her students react when she gently prods them to rely on measurements to answer their questions.
“They tell me, ‘Can’t I text Cha-cha for the answer?’ Or they say, ‘Google knows everything,’ but Google and Cha-cha don’t know how far they would need to drill to find water under our classroom,” said Adams.
The river trips provide a chance for students to take measurements that they then must turn around in their heads to explore what science is all about: Asking the question, finding evidence and then asking more questions.
For Roggenstein, the Spider Snatcher, the day proved a triumph.
“Such a cool experience!” she said.