RANGELY I Dana Forbes always learned by doing.
These days, he would have been dubbed a kinesthetic or tactile learner. But as a child in the 1970s, Forbes understood the best way to learn something was simply to explore his way through it.
Growing up in Miami, Fla., Forbes learned of the rich maritime history of Florida’s eastern coast not through books but by searching the shorelines of nearby islands following big storms.
“Our family had a boat and would go out to these islands,” Forbes said. “I would always keep my eyes trained to see what new things we might find. I saw this huge ball of iron in knee-deep water, so I called my mom and dad over and said, ‘Check this out.’”
For Forbes, the discovery of a cannonball—and the subsequent expedition proving it had come from a Spanish galleon that had sunk more than two centuries earlier—was the genesis of a life bent on exploration.
In the 1980s, he joined an expedition to Turkey in search of Noah’s Ark, fueling his conviction that biblical history could be confirmed by archeological evidence. Then, in 2000, his family discovered on their Skull Creek property the most complete Allosaur skull ever found.
A decade-and-a-half later, Forbes’ fascination with treasure hunting hadn’t waned.
As a fourth-grade teacher at Parkview Elementary in Rangely, gearing up for classes last fall, Forbes had noted the week-long stretches of state and national assessments on the calendar. A reality that could have depressed him instead planted an idea—one that blossomed when students began bringing coins to class they wanted to learn about.
“I just really felt like if the students had something to look forward to involved with exploration and discovery, it would help motivate them to get through the (assessments) and really look forward to the later part of the year,” Forbes said.
That “something to look forward to” involved teaching kids the science—and art—of metal detecting.
Introducing approximately 80 fourth- and fifth-grade students to the basics of micromagnetism, guiding them through sophisticated equipment use and helping them find objects for themselves began with a single concept: community buy-in.
Forbes figured he needed roughly 18 metal detectors plus pin-pointers and shovels to get the project off the ground. At approximately $250 for a quality detector at a discounted rate, he also needed help.
The school had given some start-up funds, but Forbes needed locals to share his vision.
The idea generated interest almost instantly, and within a matter of weeks, Rangely community members and local businesses had donated more than $6,500 and equipment for the students.
“People didn’t really have to be convinced,” Forbes said. “Most of them, when they heard the idea, were very enthusiastic about it. They were looking forward to contributing or hearing about it.”
Rangely resident Terry Smalec, a senior operator with Williams Midstream who practices metal detecting himself, not only connected Forbes to a company donation, he volunteered to give students lessons prior to site visits.
“I showed them that you dig every find because you never know what you’re going to find,” Smalec said. “A gold ring will come up as a bottle cap sometimes. I know of two people who have lost gold rings in Elks Park, so I said, ‘Maybe you can find them and return them.’ That’s just a fun part of metal detection, giving back something that’s lost.”
On May 12 and 19, students put their skills to the test at Spencer and Sarah Wagners’ downriver property. Weeks earlier, volunteers and parents had distributed several hundred dollars’ worth of old coins and pocket change at the site, and an unusually rainy spring had buried them inches below the surface.
Nearly every kid came up with finds.
“The kids were very excited, especially when they would hit an Indian Head penny,” said Forbes, who also planted Buffalo nickels and Barber half-dollars at the site. “They were extremely enthusiastic about that. We wanted success right from the get-go, so that’s why we made sure there would be things to find the first time.”
Twelve-year-old twins Andrew and Anthony Dorris, two kids who asked Mr. Forbes to examine their coins earlier in the school year, came away with more than their collective discoveries of a quarter, a bullet, a fifty-cent piece, 10 pennies and a set of Channellock pliers.
“I thought it was cool to learn how metal detectors work,” Anthony Dorris said. “The detector makes an electromagnetic field and makes the coin have its own magnetic field, and then that causes the circuit to make the beeping sound.”
“Metal detecting makes you get out and do stuff,” Andrew Dorris added. “And Mr. Forbes makes it fun. He doesn’t sit around and explain stuff the hard way. He helps you. He’s courageous and not afraid to do anything to help people.”
For Forbes, helping kids discover what lies beneath the surface of things is one project takeaway. Others include practicing a “No Trace Left Behind” philosophy and connecting kids to science and history in tangible ways.
Another aim is to offer children enticements to the outdoors that are stronger than those found inside.
“Our goal was to get them off video games and off the computer by saying, ‘Hey, there’s stuff you can do outside that’s cool, too. You can learn about the history of an area and do that the rest of your lives.’
“I really think that foundation is in place,” he said. “I’ve always learned through exploration and discovery. I think with some of them, that’s going to stick, too.”
(Forbes has led several Treasure Hunting Club trips this summer, including a recreation/park district visit to the Wagners’ property, and he plans to continue training students through the school year. A free search for adults is scheduled for Friday, and it leaves from Parkview Elementary School at 8 a.m.
Equipment will be provided, but participants should bring their own water and sun protection).