Students Study Earth’s Evolution on Nature Hike

DSC_4661 Ross School third graders hit the trails at Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve on Tuesday to observe and collect plant life specimens as part of their studies of Earth’s evolution. Lower School Science teacher Bryan Smith kicked off the hike with helpful information about what to keep an eye out for, such as moss and lichen. Wellness teacher John Germano passed around several compasses, reminding the students about their recent lesson in navigation, and then the group was off on an adventurous trek to Long Pond.DSC_4599

The class immediately observed several different types of lichen, moss, and mushrooms and gathered samples in plastic bags. Their teachers explained the significance of their finds and also offered a few lessons in conservation, including a warning not to pick mushrooms because it would kill the fungi. Instead, they were invited to photograph them and other species they encountered.


Along the path, students also gathered information about how these organisms grow, such as moss thriving on the north side of a tree, and are structurally adapted for their environment—information that they will verify through reference research back at school and record in their Cultural History journals. They will then try to mimic the conditions in a classroom terrarium created with their collections.

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As they hiked, the students’ creativity and imagination was inspired by interesting finds such as a dead tree that was oddly split, prompting some to speculate that it had been struck by lightning or an animal. Further up the path, they came across a “cool” large rock with black spots. One student saw a pattern resembling and elephant, and another insisted it was created with spray paint.


At the pond, the class collected additional specimens from the water and soil and paused for a quick lesson from Bryan. Asking students how the day’s discoveries related to their studies of early life, he invited them to observe the colonies of green bacteria that were likely related to one of the first plants on Earth.


Third grade teacher Meghan Hillen said the students are looking forward to creating the terrarium. The plan is to use cellophane to cover the tank, allowing for water to be recycled through the system. On a class chart, they’ll compare mosses and lichens in the wild to the ones in their terrarium and use the chart to monitor and track changes in the system. They will also investigate the role of these organisms as pioneering species and examine their relationship to two of Earth’s first green organisms: algae and ferns.