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Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego provide a real-life curriculum for sixth graders

Our 23 sixth graders traveled to the Anza-Borrego Desert and Salton Sea in Southern California earlier this month (March) to explore the region’s unique topographical and geological features, all of them included in their study of Earth science this year. Of special note among the things they saw were mudpots, which are above-ground structures formed naturally through geothermal heating. “Picture a giant anthill,” one of our sixth graders commented. “Mudpots are cool. They are made underground from the heat of the Earth and water and dirt that are there, too.”

The better part of the second-semester for our sixth-grade scientists also includes a study of plate tectonics—the science of the Earth’s movement below ground. Because Salton Sea and the Anza region are located directly on the San Andreas Fault, it makes them a perfect destination to see and to consider the effects of earthquakes and tremors.

A visit to see the artesian wells, a walk along the obsidian buttes, and a discussion of the effects of agricultural pesticides on the Salton Sea all help to build a more tangible understanding for the study of Earth science for our sixth graders.

A group of Nativity sixth-grade boys poses atop one of the pinnacles of the obsidian buttes in Anza-Borrego Desert on a recent trip there.

A group of Nativity sixth-grade boys poses atop one of the pinnacles of the obsidian buttes in Anza-Borrego Desert on a recent trip there.

An equally important component of the sixth-grade trip to Anza is the experience of camping out for a night in tents. This sixth-grade outdoor education experience helps prepare them in the seventh and eighth grades for longer (two- to three-night) trips, all of them geared toward students’ understanding of and appreciation for the natural environment. Each year, for their study of life science, our seventh graders travel to Mount Laguna to study the flora there; and in the eighth grade, for their study of physical science, students travel to Yosemite National Park in Northern California to observe the night sky.

Under the direction of Mr. Elijah Bonde, our science guru for all three grades, students work towards earning their degrees for camping—a ‘B.A.’ for sixth graders, an ‘M.A.’ for seventh graders, and a ‘Ph.D.’ for eighth graders. “Part of the experience of going and seeing these wonderful places within driving distance of San Diego, each of them directly related to the grade-level curriculum, is to build a greater appreciation for the outdoors,” Mr. Bonde says. “Students learn not only the common sense and common etiquette of being a camper, they also learn to work together to plan and prepare and enjoy meals.”

Mr. Bonde’s camping curriculum has recently been recognized by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) as an exemplary curriculum, one he designed himself, and in April Mr. Bonde will attend the annual NSTA conference in San Antonio to present his work to an audience of teaching peers from around the country.

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