Building Canoes for Environmental Awareness
In 2001, near the end of an autumn afternoon, I paddled my Six-Hour Canoe at a steady rate on Juniper Run. I had constructed her out of two sheets of plywood and used the remnants for an improvised paddle. The canoe went together quickly and remains alive and well today.
Two years have passed and it still gibes me pleasure far beyond the market value of two pieces of plywood and six hours of building time. With the paddle sitting idly in my hands, I’ve drifted trough long afternoons in shallow Mosquito Lagoon. Six inches below, the life struggle of the bottom community played out like a movie. I’ve rested in this same lagoon, on autumn evenings and watched silent as waterfowl; shore and wading birds crossed the mood and came down to sleep.
Pulling myself along by grabbing the underbrush on each bank, I’ve worked this simple canoe far up the feeder creeks of the St. John’s River — over and under fallen trees and passed long — collapsed homesteads marked by aging shrubbery.
Feeling the water lift as you push off from shore in a boat you built yourself is a powerful experience. That first instant when the momentum of the push carries you away on the surface of the medium that sustains us all is an instant of elation and wonder you never forget. Reaching out to touch the water you cannot help but form a personal bond with that medium and in that first experience you have the beginnings of a powerful connection with the aquatic environment.
To facilitate aquatic awareness at Alee Academy I developed water monitoring activities using the Six-Hour canoe to include field observation, collecting and lab work. The students use the canoes as “research vessels.“ Because of its low coast, the Six-Hour Canoe is an accessible platform with which to take water samples and to collect plankton and other aquatic life. Working on the water, and in the lab, the students gained field experience and ecological insights the could
not gain in the classroom.
Nothing, absolutely, conveys the joy of being afloat quite so purely
as a light paddling boat.
Responding to Learning Styles
The majority of my students are kinesthetic learners. How could I get my students into environmental situations — basically “hands on?” I spent countless hours research what others had done. I now combine two discipline’s that involve kinetic learning. Both are “hands on” and the State of Florida has designed curriculum for them.
One is an Industrial Education course called Boat building (1480799). It covers boats wooden and fabricated. The students use tools, loft plans, and construct a wooden boat. They build it from scratch and learn techniques that can be of value in future employment.
And second, we add the Environmental Studies program — a core of three courses covering air (8913000), soil (8914000), and water (8916000). Enter the canoe the student built. It now becomes their research vessel, a scientific platform and a means to venture forth cheaply. This environmental program can also lead to employment.
As a teacher, you must get your students into the surrounding environment to appreciate nature. What better way than to construct your vessel, load it with scientific equipment and paddle into nature for the purpose of securing information.