One of my favorite teaching moments came when we stopped at the top of a small trail overlooking Rodeo Beach to discuss plant adaptation. The focus was on the coastal succulent shrub iceplant. Marley explained how iceplant adapts to its surroundings by absorbing water from the ground and holding onto it for long periods of time. This allows iceplant to stay healthy and green, even during a drought! She then encouraged students to pick off a piece of iceplant and hold it against their tongues. Through experiential learning, students were able to witness how the iceplant absorbed the moisture from their own tongues, leaving them temporarily quite dry.
Though it adds character to the trails, iceplant grows so fast and thick, it hinders the growth of several other native plants, making it an invasive shrub throughout much of California. However, shallow roots enable it to be managed by hand, allowing for a fun, hands-on stewardship activity that helps the National Park Service. After providing this explanation, Marley introduced her group of sixth graders to “the most fun volunteer project they’ll ever participate in.”
With parent chaperones at the bottom of the hill, students took turns rolling down over the iceplant to help control its growth. The laughter and excitement that ensued merely enhanced the lesson for these students.
Before continuing on our hike, Marley encouraged her group to drink some water. She called for a “water toast,” asking each of the students what they’d like to cheers to. Never missing an opportunity to turn something into a teachable moment, Marley closed with, “Cheers to clean water, it’s a privilege to have.”