Flagstaff’s History in Science

On September 27, 2018, 17 students from the Montessori Charter School of Flagstaff’s Middle School made a visit to Little Spring and Bismark Lake near the San Francisco Peaks Passage of the Arizona Trail.


We had a full day of learning and outdoor experiences. Using the Jr. Explorer Handbooks students learned about C. Hart Merriam’s Life Zone theory that he developed using Little Spring as his base camp for his research on Ponderosa Pine, Mixed Conifer, and Alpine Tundra Zones. Arizona is a unique place as it contains all the life zones present on planet earth except Arctic Taiga!


Students also took an assessment of the present health of the spring. It is somewhat altered and damaged from human activity, though preservation efforts have left Little Spring in better condition than the majority of springs on the peaks which have been tapped as water sources for the City of Flagstaff and surrounding ranches.


With ecological studies being next on the science curriculum for the students we concentrated on the concept of trophic pyramids, or the way energy transfers through an ecosystem from sun to apex predators and the way energy efficiency is lost through the process. These systems require a delicate balance of the correct numbers of participants at each level. Too many tertiary consumers and lower level consumers will soon be depleted. Too many primary consumers or not enough tertiary consumers and food is soon depleted throughout the trophic levels leading to starvation and die off. Playing the game “Trophic Tag” illustrates this concept using local animals and plants as examples.


After our explorations at the spring we took a hike up to Bismark Lake area. We worked on trail courtesy and group hiking skills. Once at the meadow we paused to enjoy the time together. The class learned to play Black Widow, a fun group tag game that has everyone running and exploring the forests and fields. Finally, before turning around students took their personal reflection time for the day. Personal reflection is a daily practice in Montessori Middle and High School communities in which students and teachers find a quiet solo spot and just sit. No phones, no homework, no distractions. Just quiet and observation of the internal and external world. A powerful practice we could all use more of.


Dirt, water, ecology, friendship, connection. All of the elements that make up a top notch outing experience. This is connection to place. This is how we build the next generation of public land stewards. This is what education looks like.