Sunday, 16 December 2012

LIFE OVERSEAS: A day in the woodlands

OUT IN THE WILD: Biology comes alive during a school trip

STUDYING in a classroom may be a tad boring at times. Some students doze off if they sit in the same spot in class. Any activity that takes a student out of a classroom  —  be it running an errand for a teacher or a school trip — seems attractive.

A trip is part of the Biology syllabus. My class chose a habitat for study — the woodlands. We boarded a bus at 8am and headed for Dromore Wood in Ennis, Ireland. As the temperature was getting rather low and the wind was howling, we wore warm clothing. We also donned wellington boots to battle the muddy and damp  ground.

We met two facilitators and we were divided into two groups. Then we formed smaller groups of five and were assigned our first challenge — dig up pitfall traps which were buried in the ground two days ago. The pitfall trap is a plastic bottle, cut in half. The bottom section is buried just below the land surface to capture tiny creatures that crawled on the ground.

While there were no animals in some bottles, two beetles were found in the one  dug out by my group. Everyone was fascinated by the presence of two usually insignificant insects.

It was even more interesting when we found a ground beetle with a half eaten worm in one of the bottles. We knew the beetle was rather peckish.

Later we looked for dead pieces of wood, scraped them open with a knife and trapped any living thing hiding underneath them in five small glass containers. There was a huge adrenaline rush seeing the creatures attempt to escape when we revealed their hiding place.

We were delighted to catch two woodlice! We learnt that woodlice were crustaceans. Who knew that a cousin of the crab lived in dead wood, eating its own habitat?

While we were scavenging for more dead wood, we stumbled across a huge hole in the ground — a tunnel created by a badger! We began to wonder if there were badgers wandering around. Sadly, they are nocturnal creatures and the groups of students were too rambunctious anyway.

Lastly, we hit the trees with a stick and caught everything that fell down with a huge cloth. My team collected six millipedes and felt triumphant when we displayed our findings.

At the end of the trip, we studied the plants in the area and discovered the way they adapted to the environment. For instance, the ash tree’s seeds are called keys and they have winged pods that enable them to fly aided by the wind.

At the end of the day, most students complained that the lesson was rather dry and the weather, too cold. However, when we were questioned about the woodland, we answered without hesitation.

It goes to show that we remember experiences much more easily compared to reading facts from a textbook.

The writer is studying at a high school in Ireland. She loves to try all things but is a Malaysian at heart

Read more: LIFE OVERSEAS: A day in the woodlands - You - New Straits Times

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