I was so pleased to have the opportunity to join the 4th grade class on their field trip to Prince William Forest Park last Friday. What a wonderful trip! The park, which is administered by the National Park Service, is a beautiful gem, almost right in our backyard, and we were fortunate to make our school’s first-ever visit on a gorgeous fall day.
The purpose of our trip was to learn map and compass skills. We spent our first hour under the guidance of Ranger Cindy and Ranger Adam, who gave our students a primer in topographic map reading and orienteering. We also measured our pace. Each student was given a map, and once we knew where we were, we learned to take a bearing so we could strike out — bodies carefully oriented and compasses in hand — and guide ourselves to the next in a predetermined series of waypoints. These waypoints were simple wooden markers with orange blazes on top, implanted in the ground in the middle of the woods. In the midst of the fall colors, they were not easy to spot! Our students learned the importance of precision and patience when it comes to orienteering.
Our rangers stuck with us as we made our way to the first two waypoints. From that point on we were on our own as we completed a 1.25-miles course over land and through the woods, in the search for four additional markers. It is safe to say that while we were never lost, we did not always know exactly where we were in relation to those waypoints! But the event took on the air of a scavenger hunt, with much teamwork required, and in the end, we were successful in our quest to find all six points and then make our way back to our base and a very welcome picnic lunch. We shared stories of the event until the children’s conversation morphed into a lively session of riddles posed and riddles answered. All too soon it was time to head home, but we returned to Potomac Crescent happy and invigorated, having spent a lovely Friday tramping through the words.
Our technical words of the day: azimuth – your direction of travel; and declination – the angle, measured in degrees between the direction of your compass needle (which points to magnetic north) and the direction of true north (which is the direction to which your map is oriented.) In VIrginia, the declination is approximately 10 degrees, and we had to account for this difference each time we set out in search of a new waypoint!
Thanks to Ms. Mansuri and her eager students for inviting me to attend this trip. As board chair, it is easy to become isolated from the true work of our school. This trip provided me a welcome opportunity to re-connect!