Snowshoeing with Mountain School

On January 29, 2020, 16 fifth graders from Ms. Maggie’s class at Mountain Charter School strapped on snowshoes for their first outing with Seeds of Stewardship. We shared a wintery day full of learning, ecology, and group-forming at the Flagstaff Nordic Village.

Most students had never been snowshoeing before and were surprised to find that it was a lot like walking–but more energy intensive! During our breaks, many students fully embraced the snow, laying in it as they caught their breath. While we waited for everyone to regroup, students asked many questions about the Arizona Trail: Where do you sleep? Where are the most interesting places? What towns do you go through? How long does it take? And more. I sensed the seeds for future thru-hikes had been planted.

Along our hike, we noted how the forest opened up to an aspen grove. Students discussed the differences between aspen and ponderosa and hypothesized what special adaptations they have. They were fascinated by the aspen’s soft white powder on its bark, and how it acts as sunscreen for the trees; some students rubbed the powder on their faces (SPF 5!) and wore it proudly the rest of the day.

After lunch and some well-earned cocoa, we deepened our understanding of adaptations through learning about how animals, especially frogs, respond to winter. We learned that bears don’t truly hibernate and that cold-blooded animals brumate, a period of winter lethargy. During brumation, we discovered, frogs release glucose into their cells from their livers, because it acts as an antifreeze. 

Students shared excellent hypotheses about where frogs go when they brumate. We then put our hypotheses to the test. In pairs, students were tasked with finding spots to place their frogs (tiny cups filled with jello) for the winter. After about 15 minutes, we’d retrieve our frogs. If the jello was still liquid, it survived; if it solidified, the frog died. Many students buried their frogs as deep as possible into the snow in order to maximize insulation. Half of the frogs survived, some were totally solid, and some were half-jello. Our conclusion: snowpack is really important for some frogs’ survival because of the insulation it provides.

Robust snowflakes fell as we did our debrief, wherein students shared their favorite part of the day and what they hope to do next time. The debrief revealed that these fifth graders LOVE science and are thirsty for adventures along the Arizona Trail. Thankfully we get to keep developing this excitement over 3 more outings this spring!