Teachable moments: It’s what we do

Ever hear of ice circles? They’re actually rare. And when they started swirling around in a creek outside Zena Elementary School in Kingston, educators took advantage of the true “teachable moment.”

Teaching assistant Judy Eckert looked out the window and noticed spinning discs of ice outside on the Sawkill Creek. Fifth grade teachers Richard Sherman and Crystal Parese grabbed hats, coats, camera and their students and ran outside to watch the twirling circles of ice. You see the photos online.

Students shared ideas on what the discs could possibly be. They looked like UFOs, they said.

“When we returned to the classroom we used the computer to find out all we could about ice circles,” Sherman said. “We learned just how lucky we were to have seen one in our backyard.”

Ice circles occur in slowly moving water and rotate on the water’s surface. In Kingston, the circles formed where two streams meet. The rotational sheer of the streams’ eddy likely caused the twirling, and ground the edges of the disc down until a gap was formed between the eddy and the surrounding ice “creating the movement of these seemingly miraculous ice circles,” Sherman said.

“I think some [students] were a little disappointed that it actually wasn’t a UFO,” Sherman said.

Teachers often use the creek for teaching students science or language arts. Elementary students, for example, sit beside the water with journals to observe seasonal changes.

“Last fall we wrote poems about the leaves falling, landing, and drifting in the stream. One of the students observed that the stream spoke to him and said, “I hold many living creatures.'” Sherman said.

Educators here also literally “tap into” nature to sweeten lesson plans. First grade teacher Joyce Luby received a grant to build a “sugar shack,” Sherman said. It has a wood-fired evaporator to boil down maple sap. Students head outside in the spring to tap maple trees along the stream, hang buckets and gather sap. They measure what they collect and then boil the sap for maple syrup,which they use at a school-wide breakfast.

For teachers and their assistants, it’s all in a day’s work – and in this case, a rather exciting day. All of these educators are proud members of the Kingston Teachers Federation led by Laurie Naccarato.

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One Comment

  1. Betsy Sandberg January 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    So cool.
    Google Ice Circles, but then click on images to get an image from the River Llugwy at Betws-y-coed, North Wales in December 2008.

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