Sand Dunes

This fall, the fifth and sixth graders traveled to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to explore the geological wonders of massive dunes that began forming thousands of years ago. Traveling from Telluride gave the students a unique perspective of how far volcanic sand from the San Juan mountains had to travel before being deposited at the sand dunes.

The group camped for three nights in the national park. There, the students were surrounded by sand dunes rising 750 feet above their campsite and a diverse landscape of juniper, conifer, and aspen trees. They explored the sand dunes daily and examined different types of dunes and types of sand deposited. They paid close attention to the density of the sand as they hiked up from the base to the crest of various dunes.

In preparation for the trip, students learned about Newton's Laws of physics. They applied their understanding of friction, velocity, and speed at the sand dunes through a series of friction tests on sleds. Students used the scientific method to develop an experiment and test a hypothesis before they sledded down.

Students also had the opportunity to learn from park rangers about people who lived at the dunes 10,000 years ago. The rangers shared artifacts found at the dunes, including part of a Columbian Mammoth jaw. Students learned how to throw a dart with an atlatl used for hunting. They calculated the velocity and momentum of throwing the dart in a wash that would have been the prime hunting ground for hunters and gathers 10,000 years ago.

Halfway through the trip, students explored the surrounding area, including the Colorado Gator Farm and Zapata Falls. At the Colorado Gator Farm, students learned that the natural geothermal ponds were a perfect habitat to raise tilapia, a warm-water fish. The farm became an attraction after the owners brought in alligators and other reptiles to clean up the excess tilapia. Students were fascinated by the exotic reptiles and birds that dwelled there. The last attraction that students explored was Zapata Falls. After a short hike, students dipped into chilly pool water at the base of the glacial waterfall.

In addition to applying key science concepts, students also built a sense of belonging as a group. Students played games, reflected on their learning experiences, and got to know each other by cooking meals, hiking, creating art, and sharing stories around the campfire. Their experiences on this trip together set them up to return to school with the ability to work together and understand each other better as learners and as friends.

Click here to view photo gallery on the trip

By Brittany Perrot, Homeroom Teacher and Trip Leader