Friday, February 1, 2019

Free Science Classes for Local Schools

Winter Classes Teach Students About Conservation and the Salish Sea

Since 2008, the AmeriCorps members at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center have coordinated free science classes (FSC), a grant-funded winter program that offers free classes and bus fares to schools within about an hour’s drive of Port Townsend. We reach out mainly to schools with a higher percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunches, which otherwise might not have the chance to visit our exhibits.

The goal of this program is to introduce and inspire conservation of the Salish Sea to students from the area. This year, AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets took the lead on coordinating the FSC logistics.

Each class that attends takes part in one class in the museum and one in the aquarium. This year, Ellie, Mandi Johnson, Michael Siddel and I decided to design two new curricula for the classes. Both of them require a high level of participation from the class to get students excited about the material.

Ellie Kravets and students in the TownQuest class discussing how plastics can harm animals.
Photo by PTMSC staff. 

The museum class, “TownQuest: A Salish Sea Adventure,” features a “choose your own adventure” style activity in which the students make decisions as townspeople. Their decisions impact the amount of plastic waste in the Salish Sea, the morale of their fellow townspeople, or both. Students utilize their critical thinking skills to come to decisions about how to minimize and solve environmental challenges.

Students working on their "Adaptation Scavenger Hunt"
in the aquarium for the Invertebrates class.
Photo by PTMSC staff. 
The aquarium class, “Invent an Invertebrate,” focuses on various  marine invertebrates’ adaptations that help them survive in their habitat. Students learn about the adaptations, see them in the aquarium, and then invent their own invertebrate by buying various adaptations with “sand dollars.”

The final piece of the FSC puzzle is the group of volunteers that help us with each class. We wouldn’t be able to keep all of the kids engaged and focused without their help!

This is the 12th year that PTMSC has held these classes for schools in the area. Prior to this year, the program had reached 7,325 students with an average of 665 students per year. We currently have 650 students enrolled for this year, with the possibility of adding an additional 100 students from one more school.

One of my favorite parts of this program is comparing the pre- and post-FSC surveys—something that each of the students fills out to show what they learned during our classes. I love seeing their ideas about how they are going to make a difference by being more thoughtful about plastic reduction and making sustainable choices.

With five weeks of classes left to go, I’m excited to continue showing students how interesting our environment is and helping them to see that it is worth saving!

Written by AmeriCorps Aquarium Educator Marley Loomis.

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