13 March 2021

Covid-compliant beach day with students

 Every early spring I join a day in the field, where I help first year students log sediment sections on an Anglesey beach. Due to coastal erosion, this beach has a cliff face, and in it are exposed amazing sediments associated with the last glacial period. There is a glacial till comprised of local material, and an enormous amount of glacial and glaciofluvial material brought in from further away, from the direction of Scotland. It's quite impressive! And we hope the students agree with that.

In a normal year, I do this trip with my colleague Lynda, and we get a sizeable group of students in the morning, and then another sizeable group of students in the afternoon. In between we take ourselves and all the students to the nearby town of Beaumaris for lunch. But, of course, this year everything would be different. Lynda is shielding, we can only have 10 students in a coach, we can only have so many coaches anywhere before locals start to complain, and all the cafes in Beaumaris are closed, and the students will have to stay two metres apart. So how did you do this?

I had a chat with Lynda beforehand, so I knew everything I needed to know to lead the trip this year. I was going to lead it with my friend Guy as a sidekick. We would do the fieldtrip twice, so we would only have half the students we normally have per session. And probably fewer; some of the students would be shielding as well. And we would have to just have our lunch on the beach. We could do this!

We normally do this trip in February, but we had postponed it this time to give the students time to get back to campus and get tested. We would all be tested beforehand. So on a March Monday morning I came to campus, picked up the School van, drove to the beach, and met Guy. Together (and with his dog) we marked the particular parts of the cliff face we wanted the students to describe. Then we went back to wait for the students.

In order to make sure the students could hear what we were saying and see what we were doing while staying 2 m apart from each other and from us, we did our usual initial spiel in two groups. I did one example sediment description with half the students and Guy did the other group. And then we could set them free to describe the rest independently. It was a bit chilly but not bad at all. And it was nice to have only a small group. You could give a lot of attention to the few students that were there.

When it was lunchtime the students went back into the bus, and Guy and me sat down on a low wall to eat our sandwiches. And drink some tea. And then we did it all again in the afternoon! I think it went well. The weather forecast for the second day was a bit ominous; the wind would pick up through the day, and the whole day had a weather warning for wind. That makes things cold! But it wasn't as bad as expected and we did the whole two days in relative comfort. Although the second day I made sure to wear longjohns and a down jacket all day long.

From here Lynda takes over again, and guides the students through the assessment associated with this day. And I hope next year she will be back to do it herself. I quite enjoyed taking the lead for a year, but I can imagine Lynda can't wait to bring her vaccinated body back into vaccinated society and do the things she normally does. I don't mind going back to playing second violin next year!

Guy admires one of our sections which we defined right on the margins of an ice wedge

Guy teaching while it was still sunny

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