by Cliff McCollum
Students say of veteran OMS science teacher Ruth Meadows they will remember her kindness and patience, but, most of all, they spoke of her use of “hands-on” teaching methods.”
Meadows, who retires this year, recently took her a combined class of 38 students and five adults on an extended weekend field trip to Gulf Shores where the students got to get hands-on experience with various types of wildlife as well as exploring some of Alabama’s diverse environments.
Students got to interact with lemurs, white tigers and other animals during their visit to the Gulf Coast Zoo.
“It was awesome! Their hands are warm,” eighth grader Kevin Lazenby said.
The group drove to Five Rivers to kayak, breaking into several groups. Some students, like eighth grader Amber Matthews, had never kayaked before, leading to a small moment of panic when her kayak encountered an interesting visitor: an alligator.
“I was paddling and didn’t know how to steer the boat,” Matthews said, “so we started steering towards the alligator. It was a little scary, but we got ourselves right soon.”
The students said they also enjoyed some of the free time they got to spend on the nature trails, with Jonathan Strock saying the best part was when he and few other classmates almost caught a bunny they had been chasing.
“We were diving to try to catch the rabbits. We came this close,” Jonathan said, indicating a length of around two feet. “It was awesome.”
The students also visited the Dauphin Island Estuary, and Meadows pointed out to her students the facility had an Opelika connection.
“Mary and Yetta Samford contributed well to the program, local folks from back home, so we wanted to be sure to point that out,” Meadows said.
Meadows had the idea for the program at the end of the 2011 school year, and wanted to put together a trip that would be affordable and fun.
“I wanted something science-oriented, but Sea Lab was booked for two years,” Meadows said. “I visited the Gulf Shores Chamber of Commerce website and saw a host of science-related activities to enjoy and it just kind of clicked.”
Students paid around $200 for the weekend trip which included most of the students’ meals as well as gas and time for the bus driver.
Meadows is no stranger to scientific trips: in 2009, she was one of 26 teacher across the nation chosen for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea program. Meadows spent 40 days aboard the Henry B. Bigelow exploring the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on behalf of a project conducted with the Census for Marine Life.
When her student were informed of their teacher’s upcoming retirement, they seemed taken aback and began spontaneously applauding during their Wednesday class.
“She’s more than a teacher. She’s a friend,” student Eden Newell said.
Her classmates nodded in agreement.
“She actually takes the time to teach us and not just out of the book,” Kristian Shurum said. “We actually do hands-on stuff. She makes sure we learn what we need to learn, but tries to keep it fun and exciting so we are never bored.”
Xavier Hewitt, a student who had been in Meadows’ global connections class as a sixth, seventh and eighth grader, recalled numerous projects Meadows had done with the group as a more hands-on way to teach scientific principals.
“She thinks outside of the box. She takes an ordinary project and makes it extremely fun,” Hewitt said.
Eighth grader Jarkayla Cobb talked about a recent experiment where the students used robotic cars to pop balloons in a game-like competition.
“We had to learn how to program and control the robots in order to win the game,” Cobb said. “We had to figure out the numbers to press to start the programs and make the cars work.”
Students also recalled a lesson on exothermic and endothermic reactions where they made their own ice cream and sherbets and another experiment after a lesson about yeast cultures that resulted in them baking their own cinnamon rolls.
While Meadows may be leaving at the end of this school year, her students say her legacy will live on as they continue to learn more and explore the doors she helped open for them.