‘Experiential learning is the best kind of learning’

Volunteers introduce campers to nature skills
Campers kayak in the swimming pool in Schenectady's Central Park.
Campers kayak in the swimming pool in Schenectady's Central Park.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Campers at Central Park came face-to-face Friday with what lies beneath the surface of Iroquois Lake.

Peter Tobiessen, a former Union College biology professor, taught campers how to measure the lake’s water clarity and identify its living creatures.

He showed off pictures of rotifers, water fleas and mayflies before introducing the students to shallow pans filled with lake water and leafy material. Swimming around the pans, he said, were tiny creatures that make up the backbone of the lake’s food chain.

“Look and see if there is something that is moving,” he told the campers. “There’s something, it’s wiggling away.”

“Oh, I got it,” Taniyah Cherry, 13, said as she used a small pipette to suck anything that appeared to be alive out of the pan. “That’s so cool.”

After assembling a small collection of barely-visible underwater creatures, Taniyah and her peers moved over to a set of microscopes to more closely examine their findings.

The mayfly, the largest of all the critters, drew the biggest gasps as the young scientists watched it wiggle in high definition.

“Usually, we think about the main critter of a lake as a fish, but don’t forget the fish have to eat,” Tobiessen said.


Other small groups of campers scattered across the park, pairing with volunteers from the Environmental Clearinghouse (ECOS) to learn about fishing, kayaking, wilderness navigation, tree identification and more. This summer is the first year the Schenectady-based environmental organization has partnered with the Schenectady SCORE summer camp — a partnership of the city, county and city school district. This week, the ECOS volunteers plan to work with kids on bike maintenance and safety, camp director Sara DiPietro said.

The volunteers spent three days at the camp last week, giving kids a chance to cycle through the different activities. By offering a range of experiences, the ECOS volunteers and camp coordinators hope the kids connect with something.

“You never know what’s going to spark them,” said Art Clayman, who helped organization the partnership on behalf of ECOS. “Experiential learning is the best kind of learning, especially during the summer.”

After working alongside Tobiessen for about 30 minutes, Taniyah and her group headed over to the pool to learn to kayak. Floating and paddling around the pool, campers enjoyed a day on the water.


“The kayaking was lit,” a camper said as he passed Taniyah and her group. Not sure what lit means? “That’s good,” the camper explained.

Another group of campers worked alongside Will Seyse, president of ECOS, as he taught them how to navigate using a compass. The campers were tasked with finding a series of clues, each leading to the next. But the clues weren’t descriptions of the next stop; they were compass directions spelled out in degrees.

“Every good hunter has been lost, or fishermen; it happens,” Seyse told the campers. “Using the compass makes a tremendous difference for safety.”

Janiya Hudson, 12, said the compass scavenger hunt was her favorite, mostly because she was good at it.

“I found almost every single thing,” she said. “I’m too good.”

Leave a Reply