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Murray Journal

McMillan second-grade students get hands-on experience with Utah geology

Dec 01, 2016 04:20PM ● By Julie Slama

McMillan second graders learn about rocks during their field trip to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and G.K. Gilbert Geologic View Park. (Shauna Maughan/McMillan Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Who knew that a typical s’more over a campfire could illustrate metamorphic rocks?

About 100 McMillan Elementary second-graders can explain how.

“I really liked learning about metamorphic s’mores,” second grader Mekensy Habel said. “We had a layer of graham cracker, then chocolate, then marshmallow with another graham cracker on top and each layer was a sedimentary rock, but with an igneous warm marshmallow, together they were metamorphic.”

McKensy and their classmates walked around Silver Lake before picnicking. Not only did they see wildlife — a doe and two fawns, lizards, waterfowl, squirrels and a beaver dam — they saw the difference in plant life at a higher elevation and looked at the bowl shape of the canyon and learned how it was formed by glaciers long ago.

“I liked walking along Silver Lake and seeing all the animals on the walk,” second grader Skyler Thueson said. 

Classmate Owen Smith said his favorite part was the hike.

“I climbed up on the boulder and looked up to see all the trees,” he said. “We saw animals and I looked at all the different types of rocks and noticed the colors of the fall leaves and the shape of the canyon from my view.”

Skyler said in addition to walking around the lake, he headed into the U.S. Forest Service’s visitor center.

“It was neat to go into the Nature Center and learn more,” he said.

Second grader Lily Matsumori said she learned from the Forest Service ranger more about how the lake was formed, about the glaciers and what kinds of rocks are in the area. 

“I sat down on a sturdy rock and drew a picture so I’d remember what I saw,” she said.

In fact, students in Shauna Maughan’s class all created watercolor pictures of the field trip. On one classroom wall, there were mountains, streams, Silver Lake, boulders, trees and animals highlighting their experience.

Other classes wrote about their favorite parts of the field trip, the rock cycle and created pet rock stories.

Lily also said she liked learning about fossils.

“I really liked working with salt dough so we could understand how fossils were made,” she said.

Maughan said that on picnic tables, students made salt dough fossils of shells, bones, and plastic dinosaurs that they were able to take home.

The field trip also included going to G.K. Gilbert Geologic View Park near the mouth of the canyon where students could see signs of the Wasatch fault, ancient Lake Bonneville’s shoreline and past mining operations.

“We look at the canyon from that point and read the historical and geological signs. We see where the rocks are deposited from the glacier and how it carved the canyon in a U shape. Students can see the formations layered of shale and quartz, granite and the shoreline of Lake Bonneville. They can read about it in a book and we show them a Powerpoint, but it’s nothing like being there. They’re learning about rocks right in their backyard,” Maughan said about the field trip that has been a tradition at the school for more than 20 years.

The students also visit the Temple Quarry trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon, where they learn how it was cut, split, then slid down the mountain, she said. They walked along a dry riverbed to see sediment that was broken from the rocks. Maughan, along with teachers Samantha Walters, Sheri Winn and Christi Vuyk, used the illustration of shaking sugar cube in a milk carton to show how sediment breaks off similar to cobblestone.

“We wanted to give students an understanding at the same time as seeing it firsthand. We want them to make real life connections. This is one of the coolest field trips we go on,” Maughan said.