Adelin Pop stared at the shaker screen filled with 5 pounds of North Carolina dirt peppered with gems and had one question.
"How are we supposed to find any?" the fifth- grader asked.
Massey grabbed one side of the box, Adelin the other, and they shook it to let dirt fall through the mesh at the bottom, exposing some rocks. Adelin then splashed the box into the water stream running through the mine's covered wagon to further rinse the remaining rocks.
He pulled out some quartz, some calcite, and then a regular looking rock.
"This is a rabbit rock," Marca Stephens of Huck's told Adelin, getting a quizzical look. "It's only good to throw at a rabbit."
"I guess I'll keep all of these," Adelin said with a shrug as he continued to sift.
New River students from all grade levels took an in-school field trip to the world of North Carolina mining on Thursday and Friday. Principal Lynn Pabst came up with the idea when she met Massey in north Georgia on a recent trip.
The state has science standards tied to rocks, their hardness and composition. Many New River students haven't had the opportunity to go gem mining on their own.
So Pabst decided to tie the pieces together by declaring that "New River is rock solid in learning" in the weeks leading up to FCAT testing, and let the kids have some fun while gaining background knowledge on a "field trip" that is affordable to families.
"If you ask them to have background knowledge, and they only have what's in their little part of Wesley Chapel, they might not have enough," Pabst said, noting that most school field trips are supported through grants if teachers can get them. "They're just filling that background knowledge."
Students excitedly entered the covered wagon and jabbered with one another about what they were finding. They wanted to trade with each other, hoping to find a diamond in the rough behind the school's covered play area.
"This is cool," first grader River Zemanek said as he plunged his hands into the dirt. "I like how I'm finding all these gems."
He looked at a gem identification chart to see what he had: emerald, smoky quartz. "Ooh, a green one. Look at this emerald. It's green."
"I've got a lot of rocks. Some are smushed and dirty," first-grader Ondrasha Joel said, smiling. "Whoa! River! I've got another one of these."
Massey said he salted the dirt with some shiny Brazilian gems to capture the kids' interest, because a natural sapphire from North Carolina looks like an ordinary rock. He wanted everyone to leave enthusiastic about their experience, with a desire to learn more.
Fifth-grader Ty Carver sure did.
He said he enjoyed learning about rocks and minerals in class, and then claiming some from the sluice in his screen. He plopped several into a plastic bag, still dirty, and declared, "I'm going home to wash these."
Pabst gave Ty permission to use the nearby water fountain instead, so he wouldn't have to wait.
"Really? Sweet," he said, racing off to the fountain as another group of children came up for their turn.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.