Olentangy Berlin: Teacher Kelly Battistone's students, family, friends bring beaches to the classroom

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Kyler Heitzenrater and Adrian Murillo-Silva prepare to use a spectroscope to study a sand sample recently in Olentangy Berlin High School teacher Kelly Battistone's Earth Science class.

Sand is synonymous with warm, sunny beaches, deserts and, well, Mrs. Battistone’s Earth Science class at Olentangy Berlin High School.

As the conclusion to a unit on weathering, erosion and deposition, Kelly Battistone’s students – mostly sophomores and juniors with some seniors – spend two weeks getting up close with sand samples from around the world.

“I wish I could say I’ve traveled to all of these places myself,” Battistone said with a rueful laugh, referencing samples from places like the Caribbean, Hawaii and Iceland.

Battistone, who’s in her second year at Berlin and third in the district, began teaching this unit while working at a high school in Virginia. Her sand collection started when she had met a retiring teacher at a professional conference who was liquidating his collection. In the years since then, she has added to it, thanks to family and friends whom she has asked to gather samples from their travels. Students, too, have brought sand samples back from family vacations.

“I have 48 unique samples,” Battistone said. “I have no idea who else has this amount of sand.”

Battistone said many have a broad perception of earth science as “just rocks,” and her class is no different until the peculiarities of sand from different parts of the world begin to become evident.

Although some color and texture variances are visible to the naked eye, it's through spectroscopes that students really see the unique characteristics of the various samples.

“I know the students are starting to get hooked by the study when I see them sharing photos they’ve taken with their phones through the spectroscopes on their Instagram and Snapchat feeds,” Battistone said.

“‘Sand is sand; we all kind of know what it looks like. How many different types can there be?’” junior Adrian Murillo-Silva said of the preconceptions held by many students. “But when you get a closer look, the differences between sand from Puerto Rico and from Florida are interesting. And sand from Iceland? I mean, I’ve never been to Iceland.”

Not only is the sand from locations around the world, but each sample also contains information about the local geology, Battistone said.

“It tells a story, the journey of a piece of sand and where it came from, what it’s made of and what forces got it to where we find it,” she said. “They learn to see the evidence of how, for example, what started as part of a mountain ended up becoming part of a beach in Florida.”

The unit begins with students, working in pairs, selecting five samples from different Atlantic Coast locations and answering a set of questions about each. Next, students compare those findings to samples from three other locations around the world, from the Pacific to Europe to Ohio rivers. Teams assemble their findings into a closing slide presentation.

“We do science every day, but this is totally hands-on, collecting and interpreting data. It offers a chance to have authentic science conversations with the kids,” Battistone said.

“It definitely takes you by surprise and opens your eyes to the kinds of things you can learn from something you might just ignore,” Murillo-Silva said.

“A lot of students travel, and they go to beaches, so they’ve seen them. But maybe they won’t see them the same now,” Battistone said.

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