Phenomena Are Everywhere!
By Kelli Quan-Martin, CSTA Region 1 Director
A few weekends ago, I attended the Brunch with the Birds at the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, located just south of Sacramento. I took my two children, ages 6 and 8, and we were privileged enough to hear the staff talk about the history of the refuge and the involvement of local schools and community members in restoring the habitat.
While at the refuge, my children and I decided to explore the Blue Heron Trails, a 1.7 mile loop within the nature area. Normally, we can walk around our 2.1 mile neighborhood loop in about 40 minutes despite the kids’ shorter stride and minimal attention spans; however, this walk at the refuge took almost 2 hours! Why, you might ask… phenomena!
Less than a few feet from the beginning of the trail, we stopped and spotted a coyote brush plant that appeared to be buzzing. Upon closer look, the plant was surrounded and filled with bees! While I was distracted and frantically looking for my epi pen, I failed to realize that my children were drawn to the coyote brush. When my motherly instinct kicked in and I tried to pull them away, I was met with pleas to get a closer look and a never-ending list of questions, including: Why are the bees on that plant? Why aren’t they on the other plants? Why are they there when there are no flowers? My son leaned in to look closely at the foliage and posed the thought, “Maybe this plant smells sweet, like flowers do, and the other plants don’t.” That prompted my daughter to skip over to a different plant and take a big whiff, after which, she turned and nodded her head affirming her brother’s hypothesis.
Ten minutes later, we were able to move on, but it did not take long for another observation to attract the attention of my children. First, it was the coyote brush and the bees. Second, it was the dry basin that looked as if it had been the bottom of a pond. Afterwards, it was my daughter’s shadow as it fell across a compass etched into the walkway. Then, there was a search to find the source of a rustling in the tules, followed by finding a praying mantis that seemed to blend into the grasses. And despite my amazement with the nesting sandhill cranes nearby, the highlight of the trails for my children was discovering and identifying the animal scat that we nearly stepped in on the path.
Needless to say, the afternoon walk turned into a lengthy exploration of phenomena!
Granted, I have been told that my children are not the average 6 and 8 year olds; after all, they have been raised by a science teacher. But their curiosity is not unique to them; it is something inherent in all of our students, and it is one of the reasons that I love to take my children to school every morning. I have to plan extra time to walk to their class lines in anticipation that we will stop to explore the phenomena along the way. Over the course of a few weeks, we looked at how the weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks changed and quickly overtook the walkway. One day, we stopped to pick up handfuls of maple seeds and drop them in different ways to see how they fell and why we thought they looked that way. In another instance, a hacky sack had broken open and the pellets had spilled all over the asphalt. As I recruited assistance to clean up the mess, a group of students gathered to figure out why the pellets made the surface dangerous to walk on. And most recently, we attracted an entire first grade class when we discovered an ant hill and were tracking down where the ants were going and why.
So, the next time you think, “where can I find some good phenomena?” just take a look around you. Phenomena are everywhere!
Kelli Quan-Martin serves as the 2019-2021 Region 1 Director and is the K-12 Science Program Specialist in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Contact Kelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.