Muncy School District Field Study classes offer outdoor learning

Muncy School District Field Study classes offer outdoor learning

Do you know what a hellgrammite looks like? Can you fly fish with a bamboo pole? Are you able to identify different species of birds and trees common to Pennsylvania? If not, students from Muncy High School participating in terrestrial and aquatic field testing courses this summer could help you out.

Two 10-day courses, held in July, led by Muncy High School science teachers, Eric Mitcheltree and Scott White, offered a special opportunity to explore the outdoors this summer. Participating were Josephine Guisewhite, Chloe Skaluba, Laura Glasser, Seth Vickery, Charles Schmidt and Lydia Bitler. The classes provided an opportunity to make up a credit in their studies or to gain a credit, freeing a slot for a course of their interest senior year.

The first course, Terrestrial Field Studies, taught mainly by White, involved hikes on different paths in Lycoming County, including ones behind the Williamsport Water Reserve and Rider Park in Montoursville.

“We began with a safety course, then traveled to the Williamsport Water Authority to practice land navigation. Students had to determine their location using a map, a compass and common land forms,” White said.

They then hiked, gathering data related to land navigation.

“Our longest hike was seven miles. We gathered samples of trees, plants and insects and we studied birds. It was long and tiring, but very cool,” Skaluba said.

When students were not hiking and gathering, they spent time in the classroom, learning about wilderness safety, map reading and scientific journaling, to name a few. Small items like leaves, butterflies and mushrooms were carried back from their hikes to be studied in class. For larger items, like birds and trees, observations were made at the scene noting certain characteristics of each bird and tree they studied.

“Trying to identify each species was part of the fun,” Skaluba said.

A representative from the Audubon Society met with students on their hike in Rider Park to share some information and experience.

“They learned about the species of trees and common insects found in our area, including their life functions. The trees most common to our area are ash, maple, white pine and eastern hemlock. We focused on diversity of species, as well as looking for diseased and invasive trees,” White said.

The second class offered this summer, Aquatic Field Studies, is was taught by Mitcheltree.

“After going through kayak training and boat safety lessons,” Mitcheltree said, “students began the study by collecting samples along water banks.”

Quizzed on what they collected once afloat, Guisewhite offered, “In the water, we look for plankton, macroinvertibrates and fish.” Mitcheltree added, “Macroinvertibrates are insects without any backbones, like the dragonfly.”

Aquatic modes of transportation are kayaks and a 26-foot powerboat. Students fish for their catches, pull them into the boat to try to identify them, also inspecting and measuring each catch.

“Then we throw them back into the water,” Guisewhite added.

Students make their catches doing entry-level fly fishing, using a bamboo rod with line tied onto it. Small water life is caught in fine nets.

In the classroom, students take notes and study their water-life samples under microscopes, noting characteristics, measurements and coloration. All the information is then recorded in their journals, plus a drawing they make of the plankton. One type of plankton studied under the microscope is oscrillatoria, or blue-green algae.

“This algae, most often found in ponds and lakes, but also present in creeks, will grow into a dobsonfly, larger than a horse fly, with nasty looking pinchers,” Mitcheltree said.

White and Mitcheltree assist each other throughout their courses, and they and the students cover some major ground and bodies of water. By both courses’ end, they will have gathered and observed species at Lake Chilisquaque at Montour Reserve; Shikellamy State Park; the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River; Muncy Creek; the Williamsport Watershed; and Rider Park. They take a good look at the environment, garner much information and have the added benefit of contributing to their physical fitness.

The kayaks used in aquatic studies were purchased with monies granted through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, part of the First Community Foundation Partnership of PA. The grant was written by Mitcheltree.