Rock it

The JE Neighborhood rocked this spring.

The plan was for our rock unit to last two weeks – half of my most recent stint in the JE Neighborhood. I should have known better. Doesn’t everyone go through an obsessive rock-collecting phase at 8 or 9? For the past thirty years or so, haven’t I heard from parents weary of emptying backpacks and pockets of rocks picked up by this age group during recess? “Please, can’t the rocks just stay in the woods?” they beg. Didn’t I have my own vast childhood collection of significant rocks, and don’t I still habitually pick up pebbles from whatever trail I’m hiking, pondering them as I walk?

The rock unit could have lasted all year, fueled by enthusiasm that grew as we dug deeply into minerals, volcanoes, erosion, fossils, and crystals. My own pockets bulged once more with stones that kids found during recess or outdoor classes, or maybe just on their way from their car to their classroom, and gave me for safe-keeping. We hunted for interesting rocks, named them (cake rock, marshmallow rock, fake gold, coal, chalk rock), sorted them, and put some of them in our tumbler. While playing in their forts, kids cracked open rocks, finding garnets and quartz crystals that quickly became currency.

We learned about the rock cycle and how igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks form, erupted volcanoes with baking soda, vinegar, and dry ice, and formed our own sedimentary rocks with layers of clay, silt, pebbles and sand.

We squeezed and pressed colored layers of model magic to create metamorphic rocks, melted marshmallow magma and combined it with edible “minerals,” and examined crystals under a microscope to see their different patterns. Using clay that we found and dug by the Jemicy stream, we made fossil prints of ferns and shells and fired them in our fire pit.

We also joined “Skype a Scientist” and met Amelia, a graduate student at the American Museum of Natural History, who shared her research on mosasaurs and toured us around the fossil halls via Zoom.

Rock on, all you budding geologists, paleontologists, volcanologists, and rockhounds!