Fourth-graders taught by Nicole Juckett and Dina Carmelengo didn’t just learn about rocks: They made them, studied them, and found them.
In class, the students created crystals using Borax, the household cleaner that’s made from a naturally occurring mineral containing boron. Under the direction of their teachers, they dissolved Borax in hot water and then mixed in food dyes. The students then twisted pipe cleaners into various shapes and suspended them in the colored solutions.
After soaking overnight, the kids pulled their designs out of the solutions to find their own crystals. (The chemical wizardry occurs when the solutions cool and the Borax crystals that had been dissolved in the hot water reform.)
The students also visited the Sterling Hill Mine Tour & Museum of Fluorescence in Sussex County along with the other fourth grade classes. The zinc mine, which began large-scale operation in 1836, was the last operating mine in New Jersey before it closed in 1986.
The fourth-graders learned about the mine and its long history. The highlight of the tour, however, was fluorescence. Housed in the Museum of Fluorescence are hundreds of different fluorescent rocks which glow a myriad of colors in ultra-violet light. In a huge manmade cave hollowed-out after the mine’s closure, the students saw whole walls and ceilings aglow with fluorescent rock.
“Being able to see, feel, and experience real-world examples of what they are learning makes school much more exciting,” said Mrs. Carmelengo.
After the tour, the students went outside to an open rock bed and tried to find the various types of rocks they learned about during the mine tour. They collected samples of basalt, coal, garnet, marble, sandstone, and slate that they could take home.
“The students loved being real-life geologists,” said Ms. Juckett. “Hands-on activities like this where they can use the facts and skills they've learned are so powerful.”
Earth science and the study of our changing planet is a key part of the fourth grade science curriculum.
They’re not debutantes, but the monarch butterflies raised by Dona Scheidecker’s class were recently introduced to society with a special coming-out party of their own. At an emergence ceremony attended by all the school's students, the butterflies were released into the wild from their enclosures. Their destination: the fir trees west of Mexico City, more than 2,600 miles away. There they'll join all the other monarchs born east of the Rockies in late summer and fall that have successfully completed the annual migration. When you include the number of monarchs released in prior weeks, the class total adds up to an impressive 127.
The raising and release of the butterflies, known for their black and bright orange wings, is a project that Ms. Scheidecker has done with her classes more than a dozen times since 2004. The project provides a first-hand study of the monarch life cycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly), reinforces elements of the science curriculum, and teaches conservation and the importance of protecting natural habitats.
Ms. Scheidecker weaves in information about Mexican history and culture, too. The arrival of the monarchs coincides more or less with the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. According to traditional belief, the monarchs carry the souls of their dead ancestors on their wings. Mexican children living in and near the monarch winter home will receive paper butterflies created by the CMS students – a project completed through Journeynorth.com.
The class also tagged 50 monarchs through a program from the University of Minnesota. If the monarchs are found in Mexico, they can be traced to CMS. The tagging process allows scientists to track the butterflies’ migration.
“I’ve had former students now in their 20s ask me if I still raise monarchs,” Ms. Scheidecker said. “It’s a project that stays with them forever and connects them to nature and the environment. So much is involved, but if I can help the population survive while teaching new generations of students to hopefully do the same, then it’s totally worth it.”
While the number of monarchs appears to have gone up in 2019, the species decline is staggering. According to recent studies, the eastern monarch population has decreased by 80% since the 1990s and the western population that migrates to California is down by 99%. Habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides are the leading causes. The monarchs only lay eggs on the milkweed plant, which is also the only food source for their caterpillars.
Ms. Scheidecker starts collecting monarch caterpillars every July and brings them indoors, feeding and protecting them in netted enclosures.
Sandshore Elementary School
498 Sandshore Rd
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mountain View Elementary School
118 Cloverhill Drive
Flanders, NJ 07836
Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mt. Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road
Budd Lake, NJ 07828