Time at the Tidepools

A glimpse into the manipulative mind of a middle school teacher:

When my boys were younger we enjoyed exploring the tidepools during a minus tide.  I thought it would be fun to take 8th graders on a field trip to do the same thing, but then I imagined their reactions:  “We came here for this?”  “How much longer do we have to stay?”  “So tell me again why we’re here?”

Putting on my thinking cap, I pondered what would pique their adolescent interest and came up with two ideas for incentives:  competition and food.  And thus was born the Beach Scavenger Hunt.

I divide the class into teams and provide each team with a disposable camera, a small notepad, a laminated picture of sea creatures they might find in (or near) the tidepools, and a laminated card with point values for each item (starfish, seaweed, multiple types of crabs, etc.).  I tell them the team with the highest score (and the photos to prove it) will receive an edible prize.

This past Friday the tide was a lovely -2.9 feet, a perfect time for tidepooling.  The weather, however, was unbelievably nasty for May, even for the Pacific Northwest.  With a forecast of rain showers, a wind chill in the 40’s, and gusts of up to 20 miles per hour, I feared a total disaster of a day, filled with whining and pleas to go back to school.

Imagine my delight when instead of whining I heard cries of, “Hey, look at this!  Is that some kind of an eel?  How many points?”  “Mrs. Acuna, come see this! It looks like some kind of fish eggs!”  “Whoa!  Check out the size of that purple starfish!”  Spurred on by the heat of competition, the students quickly became engaged in slipping and sliding over the kelp and eelgrass to see what they might discover next.  Turning over rocks (and then gently replacing them), they snapped pictures of large bullheads, shore crabs, and limpets.  With their heads ducked against the sideways rain, they attempted to record on their notepads the name of each critter and its point value.

Undaunted by the weather, some students even ventured into the water to wade without removing shoes or socks, or even rolling up their pant legs. On the bus ride home, steam rose from wet shoes and jeans, the windows fogged up so badly the defroster barely helped, and we got a little lost trying to avoid a traffic back-up.  But the conversations were still laced with comparing scores and interesting adventures (“Elijah fell, like, three times!”).

When we return to school on Tuesday, I’ll hand out prizes. . .to all the students who participated, because they showed so much enthusiasm and such a willingness to ignore the weather and get into the spirit of the hunt.

And I shall pat my manipulative self on the back.


  1. I have to give some credit to the other adults who braved the storm on Friday. Al, my co-teacher, is so enthusiastic about the trip every year that in August he’ll check the table for the best tides in May. This year he managed to come home with dry shoes – don’t know how he did that!

    We also had four parents accompany us; Paul, Tony, Heidi, and Kelly were the ultimate chaperones. Instead of charging ahead and finding the critters for the students (which would have killed their interest in a hurry), they simply trailed the groups and joined in their excitement over their findings. Thanks, everybody!

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