Playing Student at the Aquarium

February break can be a curious time for the restless educator. With most friends fully engrossed in the work week and no family holidays or gatherings to speak of, free time can be in larger supply than usual. This year I took the liberty to put myself in the shoes of students for a few hours, taking in a short educator workshop at the New England Aquarium Harborside Learning Lab titled, “From Sea Stars to Rocky Shores: Tidepool Investigations.” Three hours later I left with a few clever lesson ideas easily adaptable to my earth and space science class, a clearer understanding of the different types of inter-tidal habitats, and some very up close and personal experiences with the local harbor fauna.

Along for the journey were fellow educators, Norah Connolly, a librarian for the Somerville Public Schools and Sarah Guevin, an 8th grade ELA teacher in Everett. Both teachers, despite a limited science background, found the class to be engaging and untechnical, a style easily adaptable for their own classroom settings. In our first activity, we were required to read up on some material supplied by the aquarium about a previously unfamiliar habitable zone, the “Fouling Organism” region of our shorelines. These areas we often consider unsuitable or unclean for life, such as beneath creaky docks or rafts, are actually teaming with different types of plant, animal, and single-cell organisms like algae.  Our poster, chalk full of puns and alliterations, was presented before our fellow attendees after their own presentations on sandy shorelines, rocky coastline and salt water marshes were likewise put on display.

By far the best activity was the “create-a-creature” lab where, after we had been exposed to the different kinds of habitats handled live organisms such as lobsters, crabs, sea slugs, mussels and more, we were asked to design our own new organims with a collection of various objects seemingly saved from being trashed. Our video below presents our three organisms and the “test” they were put through to determine their effectiveness in the environment designed in mind for.

While there was plenty of great science content learned, the most experience I took from the course was far and away being placed back in the role of a student. Being actively engaged in creating with the learned lessons and observed animal behavior patterns in mind was invigorating and exciting, reinforcing the need to give students time to create and apply their knowledge to something new, not simply spit back rote memory responses.

Photo taken by Norah Connolly

This particular workshop was excellent, I suspect mostly due to its hands-on nature and focus on getting educators to create for themselves. I am curious to know from others what kinds of experiences you have had in professional development situations. Good? Bad? What about each of those web lessons would you keep around and what would you like to flat out bag for the future?

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About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
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