Friday, May 27, 2011

WaterWorld 2011

Water World is an annual, week-long residential program offered jointly by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and Centrum.  As such, it is a wonderful fusion of science and art. 5th and 6th grade students from schools in Port Townsend are joined by groups from as far away
as Spokane, Yakima, and the Methow Valley. I believe that these varied backgrounds combine to create a far richer experience for the students than they might have if they were all from the same geographic area. It was really wonderful to watch the students from landlocked areas revel in the newness of our marine environment. Of course, at the same time the local PT students got to learn more in depth about the marine and aquatic life they’re already fairly familiar with.

a student's drawing depicting their journey across the state to WaterWorld
photo by Darwin Nordin

While here, the students take a number of classes with us as PTMSC instructors. This year Valerie and I taught “Marine Birds” (with a section on plastics in the marine environment taught by Nancy), “Plankton Lab”, “Sound Underwater: Awesome Orcas” and “Marine Invertebrates”. These classes span a broad variety of topics and are some of our favorite classes to teach. We also pull a 150 foot seine on the beach, allowing the groups to witness first-hand the diversity of life in the eelgrass beds just off shore. 
examining a cormorant in "Marine Birds", photo by Melinda Pongrey
pulling the seine net in the final few feet,
photo by Melinda Pongrey

Plankton drawn during "Plankton Lab"
photo by Darwin Nordin

The teachers associated with Centrum (rather than PTMSC) were:
 Nisi Shawl, a creative writer who did an amazing job of successfully encouraging the students to write creatively about their experience here and about the various organisms they encountered or imagined during the program
Christian Swensen, who taught movement classes, coaxed the students into contorting their bodies into shapes and movements that mimic marine life (or any other zany creature they chose to focus on). The skill, energy and enthusiasm that Christian brings to his work certainly inspired the students.
Darwin Nordin led the visual art component. Quite a few of our classes at PTMSC involve a drawing component but the students in WaterWorld were intensely engaged in the drawing process; far more than most groups. I credit Darwin for this open creativity.

One of the most unique parts of WaterWorld is the entire day that students spend outdoors, walking on the beach from the Marine Science Center, around the lighthouse and to North Beach. This is followed by guided investigations of the lagoon and one of the secluded ponds. The beach walk portion of the day is fairly unstructured and it was marvelous to see everyone; students, chaperones and my fellow teachers explore the sandy and rocky shores. All of the classes at PTMSC prepared the students to recognize and appreciate the organisms and processes we observed. I always love being able to take students outdoors to actually SEE the animals we’ve talked about in class; it makes it feel much more relevant for them (and me!).
Tide-pooling, photo by Darwin Nordin
Sunflower stars live in the wild too!
Photo by Valerie Lindborg

Trekking over to the lagoon
Photo by Valerie Lindborg
Journaling by the lagoon
photo by Jess Swihart
Since everyone involved with WaterWorld is holding a mindset of combining science and art, some wonderful fusions of the two emerge during the walk:
Beach art, photo by Darwin Nordin
Beach art, photo by Darwin Nordin
launching a driftwood vessel, photo by Valerie
The final night of the program is spent allowing all of the students to present writing, drawing and movement pieces they’ve created during the week. As teachers it’s always very rewarding to see that your students learned something from your classes that they find meaningful or interesting enough to carry into another arena. Further, witnessing how profoundly and perceptively all of these 5th and 6th graders can express themselves, combining personal experiences with the subjects we discussed during classes and the beach walk made it a beautifully inspiring night. There were some incredible poems written, some hilarious movement acts and many gorgeous drawings.

WaterWorld is a very special program; it’s so rare for science and art to be presented and understood in such complementary ways. It gives me hope that in coming years we’ll continue to break down the perception that there is a strict dichotomy between creativity and science. In settings such as this, art and science enhance and support each other in wonderful, engaging ways.

Jess Swihart
Natural History Exhibit Coordinator

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  1. Thank you Jess for a wonderful post! I enjoyed meeting the Bread Crumb Sponge with you on the beach! Melinda Pongrey

  2. really nice blog.This is followed by guided investigations of the lagoon and one of the secluded ponds. The beach walk portion of the day is fairly unstructured and it was marvelous to see everyone; students, chaperones and my fellow teachers explore the sandy and rocky shores.

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