Yellowstone and Grand Teton Trip with Advanced Placement Biology

By 2017 AWLS Graduate Barb Murzyn

The week I spent at the American Wilderness Leadership School had quite an impact on me.  I decided to attend the school to learn more about outdoor education and came away with knowledge that could be applied to my Advanced Placement Biology class.

My AP Biology class is made up of very high achieving, academic students that spend most of their time in the classroom and studying independently. I am on a strict schedule, as they are required to perform well on the National Exam.

After the 2017 summer session, I decided the best way to learn biology and ecology is to be immersed in it. I took students that don’t usually spend much time outdoors to the Indiana National Lakeshore for a day trip in September and an overnight in the woods in November. I was able to incorporate much of the information Gary San Julian taught us in his lectures. I was thrilled to have new examples for topics such as migration of the Pronghorn Antelope and the role of the Wyoming Wildlife Overpass, conservation, the role of hunting and especially succession.

On our trip to the Lakeshore I was able to talk to my students about “primary succession” as we stood on the beach and walk them from the beach through the stages of succession ending in the “Climax Community.” It was fun to see the light bulbs go on, as the students were able to incorporate information we discussed in class to what we saw on our trip. I was able to ignite student interest in biology, ecology and conservation. They begged me to take them somewhere else!

In June 2018 I took 10 students on a biology trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. Our trip allowed students to make further connections and more importantly, develop a newfound appreciation and stewardship for the natural world. They saw the Pronghorn Antelope we discussed in class as well as the relationships among plants and animals.

Although they may not all turn out to be wildlife biologists, some of them will be lawyers and writers and help conserve our resources through their work. Others may just be informed enough that they will cast votes in their communities that will favor conservation. Minimally, these 10 students will create a ripple effect. Students are talking and others are listening. Families, friends, and other teachers all have an interest in visiting the National Parks.

Next year I already have 14 students signed up for a trip to Alaska and Denali National Park. I believe conservation begins with an appreciation for the outdoors. The more people we can turn on to their natural world, the more stewards we will have promoting conservation and protecting our environment.

As I prepared academically for our trip to the National Parks I made notes on things I wanted the students to remember. In prepping them for our trip, we discussed “Bear encounters.” I taught them what I learned at AWLS and figured it would be unlikely that we need to use this information. After all, we were going to be on well traveled trails and with 15 people including students and adults, it would be loud. To my surprise we were called upon to do the hands in the air, “Hey Bear” call we learned in class.

As we were walking on a well traveled trail with many other people a black bear came out of the brush, onto the trail running straight toward myself and 3 other students. By the time I realized what was happening, the bear was about 3-5 feet from us.  There was no time for bear spray. I threw my hands in the air and yelled, “Hey bear” as I was taught. They students around me did the same and the black bear turned around and ran back into the brush. I am going to have to say this was the most important lesson I learned at AWLS!


Quotes from AP students for Yellowstone and GTNP trip

When I attended Marian, Mrs. Murzyn strived to offer hands on exposure and field experiences to our class. Whether we were camping in the dunes or learning to call for owls in a forest, her passion for wild spaces inspired us. Those experiences contributed to my life long love of learning in and through nature. I feel extremely lucky to work with her as a teacher to provide opportunities to foster that love of exploration and conservation in a new generation of students. Ben

“Going to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park have been the experience of a lifetime! It proves that there is a great world worth exploring beyond the south suburbs of Chicago. Outdoor learning and exploring is a necessary step in the complete understanding of the complex processes that our world undergoes. From the uncovering of advanced ecosystems to a super volcano beneath the Earth’s surface, this trip has offered many opportunities that I never would have imagined possible. I now have a new respect for protecting the natural world and the National Parks. I also have more respect for ways that we can help at home by simply recycling and reducing the amount of toxins we release on the Earth. I would like to thank Mrs. Murzyn and Mr. Zerante for being the leaders of this trip and I would also like to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to explore and advance in knowledge of the world around me.  I am so grateful for this opportunity as it has given me a new appreciation and respect for the outdoors and the amazing sites that they can provide for everyone around the world!” – Blake

Being able to go on the trip to Yellowstone National Park with Marian Catholic was truly a blessing. I will be taking Mrs. Murzyn’s AP Biology class next year, and going on this trip will give me a head start going into my senior year. I realized that I absolutely loved learning about nature and wildlife, and that makes me extremely excited for AP Biology. On the trip, it was breathtaking to see the snow-topped mountains and the free roaming bears throughout the entire park. My most favorite part of the trip was definitely when we went white water rafting on the Snake River because it was very fast-paced and required all of the people in our group to work together. The one thing that I will remember most about this trip was being able to see the marvelous works of God through His creations. I not only grew in my knowledge of the outdoors, but I also grew in my faith. Ethan

“I have always been blow away about the complexity of everything around me. Often times it’s easy to take nature for granted. AP Bio was a great class for me because it allowed it allowed my to appreciate world in new ways as I learned so much more about. Furthermore being able to see some of those lessons up close personal with Mrs. Murzyn was a blessing. There’s so much out there and we have to go out and learn about it so we can appreciate it more.” Alexis

“It’s one thing to learn about Biology enveloped by the walls of Marian catholic. It is a completely different experience learning surrounded by the waterfalls and mountains of National Parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Going on this trip only furthered my interested in learning as I was able to experience what nature has to offer first hand in a new setting. Going to National parks not only allowed me to further my education but sparked a flame within me to contribute as much as I can to ensure these beautiful places are preserved in their entirety. ‘The greatest threat to this planet is the belief that someone else is going to save it.’ The way we can start securing the safety of these parks is by getting out there to experience and learn about it for ourselves. This trip was life changing and I thank Mrs. Murzyn, all the chaperones, my fellow classmates, and Marian for giving me this opportunity to further my education and broaden my horizons of all this world has to offer!” ~Gabriela

“I would like to thank Mrs. Murzyn and everyone who made the trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons possible! I had an amazing time and this was a once in a lifetime experience. Being able to see all that I learned in AP Biology outside of the classroom was wonderful! It was so exciting to go on a new adventure everyday of the trip! Everyone on the trip was wonderful and the experience was unforgettable! There are so many amazing things to see in this world and I am so thankful I got to see a glimpse of what nature has to offer on this trip! I hope I am able to visit Wyoming again sometime in the future, but the memories made on this trip I will never forget! Thank you again Mrs. Murzyn for making this trip available and possible to us students! It’s one thing to learn about a topic in class, but when you see that topic firsthand in nature you will never forget it! I hope we can preserve our National Parks so everyone can have the chance to see how amazing they really are!” – Lauren