Getting hands-on experience with bay Innovation: 'This is a neat program. We were all tired of being in the classroom and eager to see what we learned,' says Rose Binda of Maine.

July 21, 1996|By Kathleen B. Hennelly | Kathleen B. Hennelly,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Wading waist-deep into the murky waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Joseph Macquade dredged the silty bottom of the bay with his nylon net, hoping to find aquatic life. "Joe, be careful or you'll be up to your eyeballs in mud," his cohort, Kim Rex, called out.

They were among 28 teachers - from the Bahamas to Alaska - who had a wet, hands-on experience last week in Rocky Point State Park as part of a National Aquarium program.

The "Living in Water" program is a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on aquatic life and how it interacts with its environment.

Initiated and run by Dr. Valerie Chase, staff biologist for the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the program looks for innovative ways to teach teachers to teach science in interesting and understandable ways to middle school students.

Teachers in floppy hats and scuba booties were scrambling over rocks and wading in the water where the Back River runs into the bay.

They measured the water's salinity and oxygen and nitrate levels and tried to figure out how these affect wildlife.

The teachers' field trip was a culmination of nearly two weeks of intensive classroom and lab training.

"This is a neat program," said Rose Binda of Maine. "We were all tired of being in the classroom and eager to see what we learned."

The teachers were so enthusiastic they ran their own field trip the week before. They used their money to hire the Minnie V skipjack to take similar measurements in the Inner Harbor.

"All of these teachers are highly motivated," said Dr. Chase. "There have been several nights when they have worked through dinner. They are very into education."

The curriculum developed by Dr. Chase has been infused into the science classes of all of the Baltimore middle schools and some middle schools in every county in Maryland.

The program is also used in at least one school district in every state and in many foreign countries.

"One of the main objectives of the program is to combine biology, chemistry and physics, so kids can see that the properties are related to each other," said Dr. Chase. "We want kids to know how living things are dependent on their environment."

Karen St. Cyr, a teacher from the Bahamas, felt that the program would help her country understand its environment better.

"Being an island nation of over 700 islands where water is part of daily life, it is important to know how aquatic ecosystems work," said St. Cyr. "We hope to use this program to supplement our science curriculum on all of our islands."

The aquarium requires teachers who attend the classes to teach teachers back home what they learned. Those teachers then teach the program to their 6th through 8th graders.

"The program is really like a pyramid," said Dr. Chase. "This program has been used in teaching more than 15,000 American students. And those are just the ones we can count. The program is everywhere."

Joseph Macquade, who has been a teacher for 30 years and now works for the Massachusetts Education Department, said he thought that the program could be used throughout the science education field.

"There are lots of wonderful ideas here for our middle school science program," said Macquade. "This is what the thrust of science in the '90s is all about, to focus on an inquiry-based program that gets people interested."

The program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and has a budget of $230,000 for five years. It is also heavily supported by the National Aquarium, which uses its own salaried employees as instructors.

Since 1987 the aquarium has distributed more than 12,000 copies of the curriculum to people in all 50 states and abroad - including South and Central America, India, Nigeria, Algeria, Germany, France and Australia.

"Hopefully this program will become a model for teachers in other areas as well - a new way of teaching," said Paula Schaedlich, the aquarium's senior director of planning and education.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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