One thing we all have learned in working with seventh graders is that you really can't afford to give them much, if any, down time. Down time means they get in trouble, or have the potential to get in trouble. The goal is to wear them out so they're awake enough to participate, but tired enough to not cause any mischief.
We succeeded in this goal.
After unpacking we met for a brief orientation, split the kids into three groups (their teams for the weekend) and started in on our first activity. I went with on group on the Lake Study which was something I was interested in anyway, since I happen to be a Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) facilitator and since this was sort of science oriented. Of course the kids were, at first, less than enthused about a Lake Study. After all, how fun could this be?
Pretty darn fun, they found out.
We took a huge net and dragged a portion of the lake to find out what types of organisms we would find. This involved a few kids holding one end of the net on shore, while our guide went out into the lake (gotta love those waterproof coveralls) and swung the net around and back to shore. All the kids had to help pull it ashore and then we went through the contents which consisted of an amazing amount of algae (unusual, according to our guide).
The kids loved the algae. We had to sort through it to find fish, then chuck what we didn't need back into the water. The kids took to this like you wouldn't believe. Kids I never thought would even touch the stuff are elbow deep in algae, marveling at its bright green color, its texture, how it dries on their skin, and how funny it smells. One girl was so impressed with algae that she still hasn't stopped talking about it. Nearly all the kids mentioned that they'd never touched algae before.
We found quite a few smaller fish which we put into buckets of water and the kids got to touch and handle before we freed them back into the lake. This was new for them as well.
We then all got into life vests and went out into the middle of the lake on a pontoon boat and took some water samples. We tested for nitrates, ph, phosphates, clarity, and dissolved oxygen. We took Secchi Disks and used those as well to see how far down into the lake we could see.
The best part? Our guide gave each of them a chance to drive the boat. At this point I asked them how many of them had ever been on a boat before. Two hands went up. I then asked how many of them had driven a boat before. No hands went up. The looks on their faces was just priceless as they steered the boat around the lake. After we returned to the dock and headed up for dinner I asked my group if the Lake Study was as boring as they thought it was going to be.
"No!" they shouted. To a kid, they all wanted to go again. I had to remind them that they had five other activities to do this weekend. That seemed to placate them but they all agreed that nothing could be as cool as the Lake Study.
They were wrong.