Field trip good as gold for Basalt Elementary | AspenTimes.com
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Field trip good as gold for Basalt Elementary

Basalt Elementary instructors found a way to teach history that’s good as gold this fall.

Eighty-eight first- through fourth-graders in the Excellence in Explorations classes explored the Phoenix Gold Mine in Idaho Springs and rode the rails of the Georgetown-Silver Plume Loop on their first field trip of the school year recently.

“I think they’re learning more than just sitting in the classroom,” said Jamie Winter, whose 15 first- and second-grade students made the trip. “It’s good for the kids because it gives them a hands-on feel for what they’re studying.”

It couldn’t have been any more hands-on than when Phoenix mine owner Al Mosch had two pairs of kids practice “double jacking” – with one kid holding and turning a hand-held drill and the other striking it with a hammer.

Mosch, a third-generation hard-rock miner, pulls gold out of the Phoenix when the price is right and leads tours when it isn’t.

He was a natural with the Basalt kids, keeping their attention on a 50-minute tour of his dark, cold and occasionally wet mine that was first prospected in the 1880s.

“I thought it was cool because we got to pan for gold, and he had lots of dead people stories,” said fourth-grader Luke Eiekmann. He had visited a mine before, but not one as good as the Phoenix, he said.

Mosch cleverly demonstrated through the double-jacking competition how tough and tedious the life of a miner could be. The kids were enraptured by his stories, such as the “Lucky Bucket,” which he inherited from some old-time miners.

The bucket, used to haul ore from vertical shafts, supposedly brought great fortune to earlier owners. Kids scrambled to touch it when he claimed it now brings good luck to people on his tour.

Eyes grew wide when he pointed out a gravestone sticking up in a small chamber off the main tunnel. A tourist from back East, who met an early demise from smoking, wanted to be buried in the mine that he so loved, Mosch claimed. The man’s cremated ashes were brought to the site along with his written request to tell kids on the tour not to smoke.

Mosch said he forgot to tell a group about the evils of smoking once and was confronted by the man’s ghost that night while working in the mine. Tell ’em, the ghost warned, or else.

“Are you going to smoke?” Mosch asked the Basalt kids. “No!” the kids bellowed in unison.

Mosch showcased a vein of gold and explained the natural forces that worked to create it. He displayed tools of the trade and showed where one of the tunnels had collapsed – marked by a foot sticking out from the rock.

Three amazed boys stood staring at it with looks of horror until Fletcher Richman worked up the nerve to touch it. “It’s fake,” he yelled as he pulled the rubber foot from the rock.

Hayden Mayer, another fourth-grader, was impressed by the tour and gold panning that followed in a stream just outside the main shaft.

“It was cool, and we found lots of gold,” Hayden said.

The train ride didn’t appear to have quite the same education value, although some kids seemed fascinated to see how the steam engine was unhooked and switched onto and off a parallel track to pull the passenger cars in different directions.

The conductors seemed to take it in stride that the passengers weren’t the usual sedate sightseers they deal with. One Basalt lad flagged down the conductor and pleaded with him to ask the engineer to go faster and turn the train ride into a roller coaster.

Sorry, said Ron, the conductor, the top speed on the downhill leg is 15 mph.

Joanne Henry, a third- and fourth-grade teacher, believes the field trips are an invaluable tool for the Explorations kids. “We feel kids learn by doing,” she said.

This field trip went with the four weeks of Colorado history lessons that all Explorations kids will go through before the school year is over.

A January trip to the Western Stock Show and a possible backstage visit to a theater in Denver will tie in with drama class.

A visit to a dinosaur dig and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison next spring will tie in with science.

Explorations in Excellence is entering its fourth year at Basalt Elementary School. First- and second-graders team with kids of the same skill levels for classes like reading and math, as do third- and fourth-graders.

Kids in all four grade levels mingle for one and a half hours in the afternoon for Explorations courses, which concentrate on topics such as how the heart works (they will dissect a cow heart); nutrition and health; drama, dance and study of the play; Colorado history; and something called Puddle Questions, or discussions designed to encourage problem solving and deeper thinking.

Henry believes the Explorations strand helps younger students learn because they get excited by what the older kids are doing and realize they can do it, too. The older kids naturally assume roles as mentors for the youngsters.

“It’s so neat to work with multi-age kids,” said Henry.


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