Anyone who works or lives in Mitchell, Avery, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany or Wilkes counties, along with guests traveling in the same vehicle, are invited to visit Grandfather Mountain for $3 per person during the month of December 2015 with proof of local employment or residency. (MORE)
Sixteen educators from across North Carolina converged at Grandfather Mountain on Dec. 5-7 for an intensive workshop focused on the wonder and resilience of nature in winter.
The educator trek, coordinated by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and Grandfather Mountain, exposed teachers to a variety of environmental topics, with special emphasis on the ecological processes that occur during this coldest season.
The group also ventured to Sugar Mountain Resort for a guided snowshoe tour, studies on snow properties and measurement, and a lecture from resort staff on the science behind man-made powder.
While the Linville park and the Museum have collaborated for years to host nature workshops, this was the first held here in the “off-season,” said Jesse Pope, director of education and natural resources for Grandfather Mountain. Enough teachers expressed interest that a waiting list formed for the program, he said.
“Our goal was to help advance teachers’ understanding of natural processes that occur in winter,” Pope said. “It enhances their ability in the classroom to be able to explain winter, and the teachers had a great time.”
The educators came from public and private schools across North Carolina and other educational venues, including the Jordan Lake Environment Education center and the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
From home base at the N.C. Forest Service’s Mountain Training Facility in Crossnore, the group traveled to Grandfather Mountain for a weekend packed with activities.
The group hiked the Black Rock and Bridge trails at Grandfather Mountain and discussed how animals hibernate, migrate or adapt to survive the tough winter. They learned about processes plants undergo that require colder temperatures, such as the germination of conifer seeds.
They saw rime ice firsthand and learned how climate change might impact winter weather in the future.
“Because we’re at a high elevation, we’re one of the first places that changes will show up,” Pope said.
At Sugar Mountain, the teachers tested the insulative properties of fur, feathers and synthetics in an experiment that examined which insulated Jell-O cup would congeal the slowest.
Len Bauer, director of snowsports for Sugar Mountain Resort, led the group on a complimentary snowshoe hike and discussed the unique set of factors that impact snow production here.
“Anything that’s education, talking about the environment, all pertains to what we do,” Bauer said. “Our little ecosystem is so different than anything else on the East Coast.”
It was the range of hands-on and classroom instruction that led teachers to describe the weekend as “excellent,” “comprehensive” and “illuminating” in evaluations.
Organizers heralded the workshop as an example of the benefits of partnership in creating meaningful programs that spread knowledge to the curious.
“It was a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful collaboration,” said Melissa Dowland, coordinator of teacher education for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
Visit naturalsciences.org/education for information on future educator treks.