SIOUX CITY | More than 100 fifth-graders from Spalding Park Elementary School rubbed their hands together, then slapped palms on their legs to reproduce the sounds an intensifying rainstorm makes in dropping precipitation into the Missouri River.
They then mimicked proper canoe-paddling technique, leaning torsos forward, then propelling arms ahead and downward, for two strokes.
Nia Thomas, who was among four people giving information about a long river trek, told them, "9,998 more times and you've got a day on the river."
The students visited the Missouri riverfront Friday to learn about the ecosystem of a river they sometimes overlook. The students were reminded of the river's wildlife and plants by the On The River team, whose members couldn't be more fascinated to travel its entire length. They are journeying from Glacier National Park in Montana along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to reach the Gulf of Mexico.
"I love exploring, so much that I have walked across the country, I have biked across the country and now I will canoe across the country," said Sara Dykman.
The four initially hiked, then biked and since have paddled two 18-foot canoes on a 3,500-mile journey that will take six months, through December. Paddling to Sioux City has covered 1,600 miles.
The team members are Dykman, 30, of Kansas City, Aaron Viducich, 32, of Sacramento, California, Matt Titre, 31, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Thomas, 26, an international participant from Wales.
Starting in July, they have traveled in self-contained fashion, buying food inland every few days, then paddling and camping overnights with all their gear crammed into two canoes.
"We wanted to have an adventure on this river because this is the fourth-longest river in the world. That is pretty special," Viducich said.
Student Gilbert Heberer has been on a speed boat on the river but said he'd have trouble paddling more than two miles.
"I think it is amazing. They are kind of like (Louisiana Purchase explorers) Lewis and Clark," Heberer said.
The trekkers said what separates their team from many others who paddle through Sioux City on river journeys to the Gulf is their link to education. That's why Spalding school officials were keen to have students spend two hours with the On The River crew. All four shared information about flora and fauna along the Missouri River, which dumps into the Mississippi just west of St. Louis.
"Adventure-linked education is a way for kids to forget that they are learning and turn our adventure into math, science, reading and writing lessons," said Viducich, a third-grade teacher.
They have posted weekly Web videos at ontheriver.org, so schools not along the river can use the information in classes. After some time in the city, the next stop will be with West Harrison students in Mondamin, Iowa, on Oct. 8-9.
The students moved over several hundred yards of the riverfront at Chris Larsen Park. Each had worksheets on which they were to find one plant and one animal, then write and draw full observations so that people 1,000 years later would be able to understand that living thing.
Fifth-grader Jadyn Nelsen said she was most amazed to learn the team uses a small solar panel to power the few electronic devices they have.
"I think it is very interesting because from all they have traveled, I think it would be fun to travel like that," Nelsen said.
Spalding Park Principal Mimi Moore said she's looking into how to earn a designation as an environmental science school.
"This fits perfectly with what we are doing," Moore said as she watched the students rushing around the riverfront.