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Posts Tagged ‘Oconee River’

With the new academic year right around the corner, we’ve had Apple training sessions at school this past week as part of our changeover to Macintosh, so I took advantage of this time to edit together more of the video I’ve been sitting on from our summer adventures.

First, I put together a look back at Paddle Georgia 2011 which highlights the size and scope of the trip:

I knew from the Paddle Georgia website that some 350 people participate in this trip each year, but this number was little more than an abstraction for me until I pulled up at the initial put-in that first Saturday morning and saw the sea of waiting boats. To sit on the riverbank that week and watch us pass you’d probably have seen a steady stream of paddlers for at least three hours. At the midpoint of our open water Lake Oconee transit on day three, I could see our group stretching two miles in each direction, boats diminishing to specks in the distance. That this many people come together each year to love a Georgia river is nothing short of inspiring. And it’s a real testament to the good folks at Georgia River Network and the monumental organizing effort that must go into pulling off such a logistically complicated expedition.

The off-river footage I’m missing in documenting day six is that of dinner, “evening announcements,” and the annual Paddle Georgia Talent Show. It’s unfortunate in that I don’t quite capture the festive sense of community that surrounds the trip (though others do), a scene that was a little overwhelming at first for us newbies. I’m not sure what percentage of this year’s participants were Paddle Georgia veterans, but I’d bet it was more than half (a surprising number of boats sport a collection of Paddle Georgia stickers stretching back to the inaugural run in 2005.) We’re already looking forward to the Altamaha in 2012. (Worryingly, the boys are already plotting something for next year’s talent show.)

My second video in this post is something of a grab-bag from the rest of our summer, where we try to keep up the momentum and spend as much time as possible playing in our rivers:

I rather alarmed Belinda recently when I told her we need to build a boat barn in the backyard. My whitewater boat tucks away neatly enough in a corner of the garage, but now we’ve appropriated my brother’s canoe, and I agree with my nephew Matt that the family really needs one of those Jackson Duos. And then within a few years, the boys will (hopefully) want boats of their own.

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Earlier today, reading some lively back-and-forth comments on the blog written by my principal, I came across this statement by a chemistry-teaching colleague of mine:

At this age there’s a LOT of boring, fact based learning that needs to take place BEFORE deeper, more meaningful, creative learning and problem solving can take place.

Well, I strongly disagree (albeit respectfully, because I really like and respect this particular colleague). I don’t have any problem with his contention that a good education includes a lot of “fact-based learning”—even in an age of hyper-available information—but I disagree that this stage needs to come first or that it’s inevitably boring.

Perhaps the most powerful learning experience I ever had as a student was my original WMA Wilderness First Responder certification class back in 1993 at North Carolina Outward Bound School. From the very beginning of the course, we would start each new topic with a hands-on simulation, where “rescuers” would try (and fail) to make sense of what was going on with injured/sick “patients.” Only after struggling with a new problem—like a patient with abdominal bruising, elevated heart rate and respiration, and dropping blood pressure—would we start to learn the “boring” details of exactly how the circulatory and respiratory systems worked in tandem, or the implications of hypovolemic shock’s progressing from a compensated to decompensated stage. The basic learning sequence was exactly reversed from what my colleague maintains is necessary. Nonetheless, I’m pretty confident I learned far more “facts” in that week-long course than I could have in a whole semester of traditional lectures, and, in this context, none of them were boring. More to the point, nearly twenty years later I still remember most of what I learned. Vividly.

All the research about contextual and constructivist learning tells us something we should already know to be gut-level true, that new information is most readily assimilated when the learner has some sort of internal frame of reference, like prior knowledge (or lack of knowledge, a need-to-know), that gives it a place to stick. Starting with the “facts” before moving on to “meaningful, creative learning and problem solving” seems both woefully inefficient and, yes, boring.

So what does all this have to do with last week’s trip down the Oconee River with Paddle Georgia 2011? Well, I happened to come across this blogversation today as I was editing together some trip video with a focus on my boys’ river education. If you sat them down and asked them what they learned, they’d have plenty to say, I think, but I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of future dividends. Nothing creates a richer, more receptive frame of reference for future learning than direct experience and emotional connection:

For starters, esteemed chemistry colleague, Will and I both agree that we’re ready to learn just what’s going on at the molecular level when we learned how to test for dissolved oxygen in the Adopt-a-Stream training sessions.

Let me say it again: nothing creates a richer, more receptive frame of reference for future learning than direct experience and emotional connection. Which is why I’m still a little skeptical about the headlong rush to embrace technology in education (while my school takes small steps towards more experiential and-place-based learning, we have moved with astonishing rapidity to provide every student with a MacBook).

Anyway, enough soap-boxing . . . let me make a couple of remarks about the video clips.

First, they capture budding naturalist Andrew’s eagerness to pick up critters. He never stopped trying to grab frogs, tadpoles, lizards, salamanders, dragonflies, grasshoppers, fish, water striders, unmentionable squiggly things on the bottoms of river rocks. At base camp in Milledgeville, he proudly informed me that earlier he had “caught something-that-looked-kinda-like-a-scorpion-but-wasn’t” but couldn’t find me to show it off and had to let it go. I’m wondering if I went wrong somewheres in my parenting duty.

Second, I should mention that the tire we barged out was only one of about 70 that Paddle Georgia folks removed on our designated clean-up day. One guy had something like 13 tires either stacked on the deck of his sea kayak or hanging off the sides like tugboat fenders.

Third, who knew kaolin was so cool?

And finally, the last clip is a hat-tip to colleague and educational über-blogger John Burk in the spirit of recognizing and celebrating failure.

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The first part of the video I’m uploading today gives you a taste of my view for hours on end these past three days. I’ll point out that Andrew isn’t paddling at all (though I’m sure he feels cool holding the paddle), and Will’s contributions are intermittent. Luckily, as the sun climbs higher and the day gets hotter, I can wrangle more work out of them in the interest of overtaking unsuspecting boats to blast them with our water cannon (and then speeding on ahead before anyone can retaliate).

Nonetheless, midway through our first leg, I was more than a little worried that I might have a mutiny on my hands before the week was out, five hours (or more) a day being a long time to sit in a canoe and get blasted by the sun and withered by the heat. I hope I don’t sour the boys on canoeing forever, I was thinking. When we reached the takeout that afternoon, I was shattered. I could be sitting on the couch watching television, I was thinking.

But the boys didn’t seem fazed at all (no surprise), and in fact they complained mightily when I had us set up camp that afternoon in the air-conditioned gym at Clarke Central, insisting we lay out our sleeping bags on the floor like natural-disaster refugees rather than pitch a tent out on the baseball field. I just had to. (They came to appreciate my wisdom when a huge thunderstorm that evening started blowing tents around like tumbleweeds, however.)

Then on day two, someone gently pointed out that I was using my fancy new bent-shaft canoe paddle backwards (which is what the salesman showed me, dammit). This advice probably saved my trip (and my back). But how embarrassing.

By any description, today’s paddle was brutal, all traces of river current vanishing almost from the start as we approached Lake Oconee, the second half of our twelve-mile route taking us across open waters. And yet we’ve all settled into a pretty good rhythm. I’m having more fun, and the boys are showing no signs of boredom as the novelty wears off.  It helps a lot that the swimming has been great and the sense of community is building (shared suffering will do that, I suppose).

But it also helps that it’s starting to feel like we’re really getting somewhere as the landscape changes, our intimate Piedmont river valley suddenly opening up today into wide wetlands at the head of the lake.  By tomorrow we’ll enter the Coastal Plain (our boats were portaged by tractor trailer around the rest of Lakes Oconee and Sinclair this afternoon), and before too long we’ll pass into the land of oxbow bends and cypress knees. Even after tomorrow, we’ll still have more than half of our miles yet to travel (the last two days each cover twenty-plus miles), but we can feel the lure of distant landscapes pulling us as surely as gravity is pulling the water. Tomorrow, according to the maps, we’ll have several sets of shoals to run, and the boys are beside themselves with anticipation.

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Squirt guns and swimming. What more could you ask?

It’s going to be hard to find good opportunities to write as we move on downstream, but I’ll see what I can do. When we get off the river in the afternoon, I can either blog or nap. So far that’s been an easy decision.

Right now, we’re two days in (five to go), and we’ve covered 27 river miles (79 to go). The boys are holding up better than I am.

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It’s been a good while since I’ve posted, this being the time of year when I’m completely consumed with high school soccer, but I thought I’d take a moment and announce Postcard from the Outback’s next adventure: Paddle Georgia 2011. During the week of June 18–24, the boys and I will be canoeing the Oconee River from Athens to Dublin.  We’re pretty excited—after our 10,000 mile road trip last year, we’re looking to scale back and stay closer to home this summer, and this trip feels more than adventurous and ambitious enough to be a worthy follow-up.

Step one: Liberate my brother’s canoe from my mom’s place. He bought it many years back for his solo journey down the Mississippi River, and it has to be hankering for more action than puddling around the pond behind her house. I hope it’s still in river-worthy shape!

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