After the dry run in the classroom, students from Stanley Switlik Elmentary took their new skills to Curry Hammock State Park on Grassy Key. Specifically, they were there to use the quadrats and practice their observation and communication skills.
Quadrats are PVC pipes one square meter in area, dissected by string into nine sections. At the beach, the kids practiced with them in land, and in the water, to measure the types and number of marine animals.
Of course, it was very different from the classroom exercise.
“Whoa, a fish!” said a fifth grade student, losing focus and searching the knee-deep water behind him.
“It takes a lot of communication,” said teacher Stacey Couch. “One student uses the viewing bucket, another holds the laminated key, and another is recording the data. They need to use all the science techniques they’ve learned in class.”
The program — classroom instruction, a field investigation at Curry Hammock, and visit to Dolphin Research Center is in it’s third year. According to DRC’s Mary Stella, the partnership between the center and school is a success.
“It’s a very cool, mission-based plan. We’re educating people about marine science, local Keys environment and marine animals,” Stella said. “And it’s unique in that all 31 classes, kindergarten through fifth grade, participate.”
On Tuesday, the kids were viewing buckets, clipboards and a “key” to record the type of objects found on the data sheet. The laminated sheet has a photo of a pointed cone shell next to an arrow, a photo of a horn-shaped shell next to a rectangle with one pointed end, etc.
Of course, just being outside raises a lot of real-world questions. One student was overheard talking about flesh-eating bacteria while another was alarmed the quadrant in the water was floating across the seabed bottom, skewing the recorded data. Others were busy making connections between classroom learning and the field investigation.
“They go out, knowing that this is a science-based experience. But then they realize they are working with fractions to record the data. They say, ‘That’s math!’” said Couch. “’Mmm, hmm,’ we say, ‘scientists use graphs, scientists use math.’”