It’s amazing how much Stanley Switlik Elementary fifth grade students know about dolphins: they’re mammals, they don’t have a gag reflex, they have pink bellies, and give live birth.

“Wow, you remember a lot,” said Dolphin Research Center’s Kim Browne. Browne took over Stacey Couch’s science class to prepare students for the upcoming field experience at Curry Hammock State Park and another stop at the Dolphin Research Center.

This is the program’s third year. According to DRC’s Mary Stella it’s a huge 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.”

The classrooms are adopted by local businesses and organizations to cover transportation costs and nominal fees for curriculum materials.

Every grade has a separate age-appropriate curriculum. For example, kindergarten students focus on identifying sea animals. In second grade, kids learn about animal adaptation.

On Wednesday, the fifth grade students reviewed what they knew about the scientific method and the difference between investigations and experiments, and the engineering and design process. Then they got to practice how they will describe their investigation at Curry Hammock State Park.

Browne and her colleague, Abby Haddock, arranged “quadrats” on the floor — PVC pipes one square meter in area, dissected by string into nine sections. Browne demonstrated how to measure the amount of sea grass (in the classroom, it’s represented by air moss), by coloring in the sections. She also touched on fractions and using descriptive language so the observing students can effectively communicate with the note-taking students.

Teacher Stacey Couch said it’s the hands-on lesson captures the students’ attention.

“They love it,” she said.

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