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‘You have to know where you are & where you want to go’

Orienteering, primary sources, teamwork among ‘expedition’ goals

Byron Center — Maddie Law and Makayla Rodriguez used a compass and their feet recently to measure 50 feet in a northeasterly direction. The pair were participating in an orienteering exercise that taught them how to get to their destination, marked in the grass.

And they had more discoveries to make.

Maddie, Makayla and their fellow eighth-grade explorers set out to brave the wilderness on the open plains of West Middle School for the annual Lewis and Clark Day.

The students simulated the 1803 Corps of Discovery Expedition, where Capt. Meriwether Lewis and 2nd Lt. William Clark traveled west across the newly obtained Louisiana Purchase to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean. 

Traveling on foot across the field behind their school, the students navigated to 18 stations, where they learned skills used on the expedition, including fire building, bartering, water purification, Native American sign language and shelter-building. 

After visiting each station, students took notes and answered questions in their packets, or expedition journals.   

Eighth-graders Ashley Cole, Sofia Perez and Maddie Bakita prepare to build their shelter in the woods behind West Middle School for Lewis and Clark Day

Primary Source PBL

History teacher Devin Purdy explained how this almost 20-year-old event teaches his students how to use primary sources. 

“Their packets are based on Lewis’s journal he kept on their expedition, so the students need to use his journal excerpts for clues to complete each task and challenge.”

During their next class, Purdy’s students will need the information they gathered to write postcards, just as Lewis and Clark used to send information back home.

Eighth-grader Liam Simon said he learned a lot from reading Lewis’s journal excerpts while his group worked together to complete each station’s adventure. 

“It was interesting having the journal. We have a part of actual history for us to reference,” he said. 

Liam and his classmate Caitlyn Deuker said they also learned how important orienteering was for Lewis and Clark’s expedition, without assistance from cell phone maps.

“You have to know where you are and where you want to go,” he explained. 

History teacher Rebecca Debowski described the day as a culmination of everything her students have learned by the end of the year. 

From left, eighth-graders Claire Rysdyk, Brooke Furlong, Lucy Marczuk and Riley Weber enjoy a celebratory snack after successfully starting their fire

“This day is about teamwork and overcoming challenges,” she said. “Some students who struggle in the classroom excel outdoors with hands-on learning and it’s awesome to watch.” 

Students put their skills to the test while learning how to read primary sources for clues to solve ciphers, start a small fire using flint and steel and build a system using grass, dirt and charcoal to purify water.

“It’s fun seeing kids in different environments,” Burkhardt said. “Watching the kids running around, bartering and making fires, certain kids come alive outside.”

At the trading post, students had to barter, or trade, for what they need with items brought from home

Read more from Byron Center: 
Gorillas, flamingos and komodo dragons, oh my!  
Friendships form through positive links

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”

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