Monday, January 14, 2013

Shells, Students, and the Sea

     Over the winter break, I had the privilege of traveling to Florida.  My husband grew up there, and we met and were married there as well.  My mother-in-law is still residing in that gorgeous state.  And so it was that we found ourselves in the car driving for a total of four days in order to spend three days at Grandmas.  And what a wonderful three days it was.  

     I greatly enjoy talking to my mother in law, who, unlike me, is very organized and calm.   I believe it is good for me just to be around her.  I also enjoy the weather, the relaxation, and seeing the herons and other unusual wildlife I don’t usually get to see in Texas.  (My mother in law has a large pond in her neighborhood which her house backs right up to.  She told us that once she was out on her back porch grilling meat and the resident alligator smelled her cooking, came up out of the pond, and was coming towards her.)  But, the best part for me is always going to the beach.  

     I relish time spent in the cool breeze (in December anyway), breathing in the fresh, salty air, feeling the sand squish under my feet, and beach combing.  If I were not a teacher (subjunctive mood here) I just might consider being a professional beach comber.  Don’t they pay people to pick up shells and sell them at souvenir shops?  Surely that is some sort of job. 

    We first of all find as deserted a beach as we can.  There is one we love not too far from Grandma’s house that not only is quiet and has few people, but also has fossils.  We always find several fossilized shark’s teeth.  A diver there once told me that she had found a mammoth’s femur out in the water.  She also said that when she first saw it she thought it was a skull.  (A femur has a ball-in-socket joint.)  She told me that there was an ancient river bed where things washed up and were deposited long ago.  (I call that the Flood.)  These things are gradually uncovered and wash up. 

Then we grab a few towels and walk down the beach away from most of the people.  This time we decided that it would be really neat if we found thirty-one fossilized shark’s teeth, one for each student.  We got the metal digging basket thingy from Grandma’s garage and got to work.  While dad and the children did this, I started beach combing.  I found several beautiful scallops.  Then I found some pretty sea slippers.  Then I found the spiral-type shells, then the larger clam type, and the shiny dotted ones.  I began picking them up.  Then I thought they were just too pretty to keep for myself.  Maybe I should share them with my students.  Let’s see, I need thirty-one scallops... thirty-one spirals...thirty-one sea slippers. . . .  

     I was still on the beach picking up shells, my bag overflowing, when my family decided it was time to go back to Grandma’s to eat some leftover Christmas dinner.

     When our students returned from their break, they were each given a little bag of shells.  We looked at each one.  We felt the bumps or the smoothness, looked at the insides of the sea slippers, smelled them, put them in order from largest to smallest, and marveled at the pretty spots on the scallops and nice shiny fossilized shark’s teeth.  They have had them for over a week now, and I still see them taking them out of their bags and looking them over.  
Science is so much more than just reading things out of a book, which we also do almost every day.  So much more is learned when students experience science-- when they can see it, touch it, smell it, and really learn about it by holding it.  It made my enjoyable hours of beach combing even more worth it.  :-)