Since the North Carolina mountains received another one foot-plus of snow last Saturday I've had to alter my Boy Scouting classes for this week. I had planned for a natural science nature hike to work on 2nd and 1st Class rank requirements while also injecting an introduction to watersheds, landforms, and the three major rock groups. Unfortunately this exciting class that would have ended around a small ridge top campfire for a final quiz and discussion will have to be postponed for another week or two so stay tuned for an update.
With one door slammed shut I only had a couple of hours to come up with an alternate lesson plan and direction for my class. The day was damp with a slight drizzle in the air and about 10 to 12 inches of snow still covered our wooded paths. After a cup of coffee our educational coordinator told me about her experience with the United States Marines several years ago when her sergeant had them to practice their outdoor survival skills by building igloos after a two foot deep snowfall while stationed in Massachusetts. After some thought I got busy gathering several shovels and other tools for a class about igloos.
I had some old OSB board that I made an (18" long) X (12" wide) X (10" deep) box that had no top or bottom. As seen in the pictures we placed this box frame where the next "snow brick" would go, then proceed to pack snow into it and then finish by slipping it upwards leaving behind a nicely shaped block of snow. Originally this snowfall was dry-like and powdery but today's drizzle provided just the right dose of moisture to make the snow stick. Gradually the walls got higher and with each layer we had to also begin slanting the walls inward to make the roof. The kids also had to make some sculpting boards for shaping odd humps of snow smooth and for packing snow "mortar" in-between the snow bricks to make the wall one solid form.
Building the igloo was a somewhat messy job on this balmy February morning with a slight drizzle but the kids really took ownership of the project. I began with a short discussion about the origins of igloos and of course everyone related them to the native Eskimo people of northern Canada and Alaska. For many centuries these hardy and resourceful people have used the igloo as reliable shelter while on fishing and/or hunting expeditions while away from their tribes or villages. We also discussed how the igloo could be used as an emergency shelter when caught in a snowstorm in the wilderness and their ability to shield the body from deadly winter wind.
While building the igloo the kids came up with some brilliant questions. As he was packing snow mortar in-between the blocks of snow one student wondered how strong the walls would be. This provided an excellent opportunity for a casual conversation about how the ice blocks meet at the top of the igloo roof where the structural integrity is found by distributing the weight evenly in all directions.Questions like this are a teachers optimum opportunity to teach a lasting lesson because it was first generated by the students hands-on experience. We weren't in a warm classroom with beautifully organized desks with a teacher asking questions to the students from the front of the room... no, we were in a "real" classroom and the students were asking brilliant questions inspired by building an igloo with their own hands. This is the most powerful kind of learning and the kind of lesson that will last for a life time.
An hour goes by fast when you're busy building and learning so we didn't quite finish the igloo today and we still need to close-in the remaining 1/3 of the roof. Despite the cold, the wet, and the mess these kids worked hard on their igloo today. Although I don't have any scout classes scheduled tomorrow, at lunch they asked me if they could try finishing it tomorrow if they could work it into their schedule so I granted them permission. I wonder how many teachers in a sterile and warm classroom setting get asked this question by their students. Education can be an intense and a powerful experience when students are engaged with their hands and then inspired by their own curiosity and imagination.
Living in the mountains of North Carolina I have spent almost 30 very
rewarding years working with at-risk kids in a wilderness camping program as a counselor, outdoor educator, and woodshop teacher. To learn more about what my blog is all about, just scroll down this sidebar to "About my blog..."
1. Woodcarving/Woodwork: Working wood has been a lifetime obsession for me and I enjoy sharing what I know. It is my belief that hands-on and experiential learning has a direct and profound effect on the development of a child's intellect, confidence, and character. Projects of mine (and my students) will be posted as they progress and I will occasionally include a video tutorial. All of my videos can be found here .
2. Bushcraft/Primitive Living Skills: Finding ways to live closer to the land has always fascinated me. Whether it's building a shelter, fire starting, animal tracking, or just making rustic furniture... you'll eventually see some of it here.
3. Long Distance backpacking, canoeing, & bicycling: Some of my long distance adventures include thru-hiking the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada and I solo paddled the 1,800 mile Yukon river across northwest Canada and Alaska to the Bering sea. More detailed accounts of these and many other adventures can be found here
4. Sustainable Living: I'm always looking for better ways to do more by using less. It's not so much an "environmental" thing to me as it is a quest for personal independence from material things and finding a path to more substantive living .
5. Scouting Activity: As a scoutmaster of 6 years (and currently assistant scoutmaster) I'm actively involved with the troop and "Order of the Arrow" where it is a joy to volunteer hundreds of hours each year because investing in the next generation insures a better tomorrow for everyone. In an era when most schools don't value hands-on learning, outdoor education, and the arts... scouting soars in meeting these critical experiences for boys.
6. Profiles: Behind everyone's success you can usually find a trail of some very significant mentors and teachers along the way. And sometimes you don't completely understand how someone affected your life for the better until many years later. You'll find some of those stories here.