The Beach, Giant Kelp, and a Friendly Park Ranger

This week we had a heat wave in California so Coastside Leadership Academy spent most of the first week of our program at the beach. The setting raised our student’s curiosity about the marine environment and organically led to world learning.

“Why do you think the giant kelp is hollow?” one of our students asked during lunch. We were all sitting in the sand and noticing the seaweed and kelp that had washed up the night before. 

“That is a great question, I don’t know!” I said.

Growing up at the beach in Northern California, I have seen a lot of kelp, but never questioned why it was hollow. I deferred the question to Lindsay, our other leader with a science background. 

“I don’t know either,” Lindsay said.

“Do you think it has something to do with helping the kelp float because there is air in the bulb?” 

I could see that our student was starting to think deeply about what would cause the kelp to grow this way.

“My guess would be it has something to do with photosynthesis. The kelp is a type of plant and it gives off gas. Maybe the gas gets caught and creates a chamber as it grows,” Lindsay hypothesized. “We will have to look it up!”

Our student was happy enough with that answer, and agreed to research it when we had access to the internet. We are a tech free environment, unless we are at the library learning to use computers and the internet as tools for learning. 

We carried on with lunch and began our next lesson. We were discussing what learning is and writing our thoughts in our notebooks when a park ranger approached us.

“Hi everyone, what is this group up to, having a beach day?”

“We are Coastside Leadership Academy!” One of our students explained.

“Oh that’s really cool, what does your school do?”

“We are a nature based program for homeschool students and practice world learning.” I chimed in. “We are studying our coastal community from different lenses, like history and biodiversity. Would we be able to talk to you one day about the Marine Reserve?”

“Of course, we work with school groups all the time. I would be happy to answer any questions you have. I am Ranger Rob.”

“That would be fantastic!”

“Do you know why kelp is hollow in the middle?” Our student asked. 

Ranger Rob at the Beach

“Wow, that is a great question. I know a lot about kelp, but I don’t know why it is hollow.”

“We were thinking it may have something to do with the gasses produced during photosynthesis,” Lindsay suggested. 

“That seems like a great theory, we will have to look it up.” Ranger Rob said. 

“Your group should come by the visitor center tomorrow. I have a lot we can show you about the Marine Reserve.”

Our students cheered with excitement. 

“We would love that.”

The next day our students were thrilled to go to the visitor center to meet with Ranger Rob, and Lindsay and I were too. We were excited to have made a connection in our community who will be able to help us with our learning. We showed up enthusiastically at 10:15 for our appointment. 

“Good morning! I did some research about the kelp yesterday,” Ranger Rob said while greeting us. “Here is an article with the information. I highlighted the main points for you. Very interesting stuff.”

He handed us an article from a scholarly science journal about giant kelp growth. 

I briefly skimmed the information and it was exactly what we had hoped to learn. An outline of how kelp grows and the gasses that produce the hollow chamber. Super cool!

“Thank you so much!” 

Ranger Rob went above and beyond to help educate our students. I am forever grateful for the connection we made with him. I know we will continue to use him as a resource in the future. 

As a founder of a new academy, this was an experience I will never forget. At that moment, on the second day of programming, unprompted, our student was practicing world learning. They had found something in the “world” that sparked their curiosity and bravely asked a question. They discussed what they thought the answer could be with our group based on the knowledge they had previously gained from other experiences. To prove or disprove their theory, they sought out a resource who would have information. In this case, a friendly park ranger who serendipitously walked by, but it could also be a book, website, or other primary source. My student was on the journey of gaining new knowledge, based on what interested them. This is exactly what Lindsay and I were planning and hoping our students would do. Amazing to witness the learning process unfold when the world is your classroom.

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