On May 3, Lynn Cipriano’s Honors English 9 class took a field trip to three local bodies of water. The trip was part of a “What Invasive?” project that ties STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.
The class went to a small, intermittent swamp in Amory Hill Cemetery, the junction of the Erie Canal and a small stream behind the Fort Herkimer Church, and Canadarago Lake. At each location, students observed species and an ecological community that fit in the area of a 27-inch hula hoop. They took field notes, sketched the species and the community they observed, took photos, and recorded the GPS location. Each student also took a water sample at each location. A main goal was to identify invasive species at these locations.
For the next two classes, students examined the water samples under microscopes loaned by the science department’s Krista Harwick and Carolyn Jones.
“Amazingly, we saw more life under the microscopes than we did in the field,” said Cipriano. “This may be due to the fact that this has been an exceptionally cold and wet spring.”
Under the microscopes, students identified various insect larvae, immature slugs, plant species, and zebra mussel larvae, an invasive species. Again, students photographed and sketched what they saw and made additional annotations in their field journals.
The students will complete their field journals and write essays discussing whether the “Oakies” in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath were “invasive” when they migrated to California.
At first glance, STEM and Steinbeck may seem an unlikely pairing. Cipriano made the connection when she attended last summer’s, Steinbeck Institute summer seminar “John Steinbeck, Social Critic and Ecologist.” She learned that Steinbeck’s commitment to the environment and social justice strongly influenced his writing. She created the “What’s Invasive?” project to help students look deeper into the famous author and to reinforce the overlap of language arts with the science world. The project is now one of the organization’s online teacher resources.
“I implemented it in my Honors class and will use the results and student exemplars to update the project for The Steinbeck Institute,” said Cipriano.
“My students are very excited about having their work submitted to this prestigious organization.”