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Choice students learn from coastal sealife

High school students in the Choice program of the White River Alternative Program spent May 17 and 18 doing field biology at Potlatch State Park on Hood Canal and at Tongue Point on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Twenty-five students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, and some of their parents, examined oysters, urchins, sea-stars, sea lettuce, barnacles, rock lice and brilliant red and dull pink sponges, before feasting on clams and crabs they had gathered.

This was the fifth time in 15 years the Choice biology class was able to study marine life on site, in the algae and mud. Teacher Joel Black believes in giving students live learning opportunities whenever possible.

“The College Board proved long ago that travel is the best teacher,” Black reminds anyone who will listen, “and experiential education has been shown over and over to be the most effective avenue to memory and retention.”

This semester the biology class studied plants and animals, cycles and cells, and dissected worms, squid, frogs, grasshoppers and more. In one of their three major projects, biology students teamed up with sixth-graders to lead them through a dissection. They also showed the sixth-graders how to draw and properly label organs and organisms.

“The intent is to put it all together, from DNA to ecosystems, including the wise stewardship of our planet,” Black said. “Teaching others solidifies learning for oneself. Of our three field trips, the tide pool trip is the most valuable because life is thickest in the sea, enabling us to see the most, and the greatest complexity, in the smallest area.”

Reading and lecture result in very little learning, Black said. Writing and studying for exams adds a little, but very little, to the long-term memory, or to the student’s ability to perform tasks at later dates, he added. Labs, which students have every week, improve the retention and the skill level, he said, as do projects, which is why the school hosts a major science fair. But if former students are asked what they remember from biology, it is always the trip to Tongue Point, he points out. And most of them still remember the critters’ names, their life cycles and who they were sharing a tent with when the rain soaked them.

“I just wish I could teach every course in a live setting,” Black said. “I wish we could ‘get our hands dirty,’ so to speak, every day in every subject.”

Black has taken students in science, fine arts and history classes to many venues on many field trips, some lasting a week. He has also taken students abroad on several occasions.

The Choice program is accepting applications for students in second through 10th grade for next year. Choice is open to any family residing in the Enumclaw, White River, Bonney Lake or Sumner areas. The White River Alternative Programs meets the needs of students at all academic levels in multiple ways. An informational meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. June 2 at the WRAP campus, 27515 120th St. E.

For information, contact Cynthia Osborn at 360-829-5810.

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