A group of middle school students, parents, and teachers from Bighorn, Wyoming enjoyed an active week of exploration and field research at Teton Science Schools this fall. The students explored Grand Teton National Park and investigated the influences of water on landforms, plants, and animals. Through hiking in the Teton and Gros Ventre mountains and exploring the Snake River watershed these students developed the knowledge and skills necessary to read the history of Wyoming landscapes from their observations. They developed the skills to interpret the stories that are revealed in the shapes of mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers as well as how abiotic factors influence the distributions and plants and animals. They also observed the Jackson Hole Elk herd during the fall rut season during an evening of listening to elk bugling and observing elk in Grand Teton National Park. Students learned skills necessary for respectfully observing wildlife and developed a greater appreciation for elk through understanding their adaptations and ecological niche in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

These students worked together in small groups to develop and conduct a scientific research project investigating abiotic and biotic influences on water quality in several tributaries of the Snake River. They specifically investigated differences in chemical and biological parameters of streams in relation to urban areas, spring creeks, geothermal features, and rock types to determine what influence these factors have on water quality and macroinvertebrate diversity. They learned skills that they can use to design and conduct water quality monitoring on their home watersheds, and practiced analyzing water quality data and presenting their research results to their peers and teachers.

The students also engaged in activities that helped them develop their outdoor skills, communication skills and ability to work together in small groups to accomplish challenging goals. Many students came to the Teton Science School with extensive outdoor experiences from hunting and fishing with family and friends at home and were able to expand and improve their knowledge and skills during this program. They gained experience in communicating and working with their peers to design and conduct field research projects and to safely travel in the wilderness. One teacher commented that “The activities, games, and leadership all helped students to build teamwork and guided students in gaining a greater understanding of their surroundings and let them have fun experiences in the outdoors.”

Through these experiences the students developed a stronger connection to Wyoming, and an appreciation for the beauty of their home state that will stay with them long after their time in the Tetons. One of the students reflection on his week at Teton Science Schools sums up the impact of this experience well, “ This is a valuable trip for our school because everybody learns 10x what they learn in a classroom environment and everybody will remember it all because it was such a great experience!”