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In The Spotlight

Taking the Classroom Outside! 

“What does the skin of a Gila Monster feel like?” and “What are those wiggly things in the water?” were some of the questions that arose among forty-five 6th graders from Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School during the second annual Day in the Desert, held on October 30, in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA). This event is sponsored by the Washington County School District and uses venues on public lands as outdoor classrooms.

During the field day, students engaged in hands-on learning activities instructed by resource specialists from BLM’s St George Field Office, Washington County’s HCP Administrator’s Office, and Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends (SUNCLF). Hiking along trails in the White Reef Park area of the NCA, students learned to identify local plants used as foods, medicines, or fiber sources by Native Americans. They also got to meet two tortoises, Tank and Tater Tot, touched their smooth outer shell, and were surprised by a plaster Gila Monster hiding in a box.

“Gila Monsters feel like rubber ducks and taste just like chicken,” teased one of the students in a singsong voice, as another hesitantly reached into the box with a glove on.  

Groups of students also learned about the power of the sun and took turns making solar ovens out of pizza boxes. A boy with short red hair carefully placed his finished solar oven so as to catch the prime solar rays peeking through the clouds and proceeded to choose his marshmallow which had been baking in the display solar oven for 30 minutes. They also tested samples of water from Quail Creek, while observing macroinvertebrates, and tried their hand at land use planning using BLM’s multiple use mission as a guide.

“My map was way better than yours, we left room for ATV-ing and the animals!” exclaimed a young girl with braided hair as she hopped onto the yellow bus to leave.

Student looking at macroinverterbrates in a petri dish by the creek. Photo courtesy of SUNCLF

Students volunteering to pick up the (plaster) Gila monster in the box. Photo courtesy of SUNCLF

A cluster of students planning out their resource map. Photo courtesy of SUNCLF

A group of students showing off their solar ovens. Photo courtesy of SUNCLF.