Day on the bay is educational

Program aboard boat helps students learn how they affect the Chesapeake

November 16, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Bundled in warm clothes, 13 Edgewood High School ninth-graders recently spent their school day on a boat on the Chesapeake Bay.

For five hours, the students learned about how they affect the bay.

"We want the kids to make the connection, not just between the land and the water, but the water and the way we treat the land," said John Tapscott, an educator with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The 13 students were part of a three-week program called "A Day on the Chesapeake Bay." It operates under the auspices of the foundation and was opened to ninth- and 10th-grade biology students at the county's public high schools.

To participate in the program, the students traveled to Havre de Grace to the Tidewater Marina, where they boarded the Snow Goose, a 46-foot deadrise workboat built in 1984 on Tilghman Island. Then they spent the day studying energy, cellular biology, genetics, biotic and abiotic factors, and the ecosystem.

The lessons aboard the floating classroom were invaluable for the students, said Christine Roland, biology teacher at Edgewood High for the past 7 years.

"I am a very firm believer that you have to experience what you are learning to remember it," Roland said. "Many of these kids here today live in the watershed area, but they are completely disconnected from the water."

To prepare them for the program, during the first quarter of the school year, Roland taught her students the concepts they would apply to their bay outing. She also joined forces with Beth Hoffman, an English teacher at Edgewood, to have the students write a book about the Chesapeake Bay that included biology components, she said.

"First we learned the ecology of the bay in the classroom, then we wrote about it, and now they are taking a trip to apply it," Roland said. "I think it's a great way to teach children."

Chris Burley, an outdoor educator at Harford Glen Environmental Education Center, agreed.

Any time children are actively engaged in learning, it drives the lessons home, said Burley.

"Kids carry what they learn outdoors with them for the rest of their lives," said Burley, who taught fifth grade before taking a position this year at Harford Glen.

Throughout the day, assignments were explained and the students carried out their studies of the water and the things that live in it.

Amber Rose was excited about the idea of being on a boat and seeing firsthand how things work in the world of biology, she said.

"I've never learned outdoors," said Amber, 14, of Aberdeen, as she poured water samples into small test bottles. "This is pretty fun. I like testing the waters, rather than just reading about test results."

Eric Glover, 14, of Abingdon, said outdoor learning made it easier for him to remember complicated concepts.

The program allowed the students to become immersed in what they learn and get excited about science, Roland said.

"We want them to smell the water and see the muck we pull out of it," she said. "We want them to use all of their senses when they learn."

Although the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has offered educational programs for more than 20 years, the Harford version of the program is new this year. It originated when Roland, who was the 2007-2008 Teacher of the Year for the Harford County school system, attended a three-day retreat sponsored by the foundation for the state's Teacher of the Year candidates.

Previously, Roland had taken students to the Inner Harbor, where they participated in a similar program sponsored by the foundation, but she wanted something closer to home.

Members of the foundation contacted her about starting a program to reach Harford students, she said.

The benefits of the program are many, said Eric Hartge, the Baltimore Harbor program manager for more than a year.

"One of the most important things about doing programs like this is not only does it make the kids aware of their impact on the environment, but it teaches them how all the sciences work together," said Hartge, who is working on his master's degree in environmental science and policy at the Johns Hopkins University.

The program also exposes the students to the technology used to compile marine data, he said. Throughout the day, the students learned to use such things as a WYSI 6600 sensor that is used to gather data on water variables, he said.

It took too long for the day to arrive and it ended too quickly for Samantha Sullivan. Although Samantha, 13, of Edgewood, grew up fishing and boating with her grandparents, she was excited when she heard about the excursion, she said. And she wasn't disappointed. Her day included driving the boat and kissing a buoy for good luck.

The buoy-kissing occurred at the end of the day, during the final lesson, which included catching marine life with a large net that picks up everything in its path. Some of the other classes participating in the program had not caught much of anything in the net, so Samantha kissed the buoy attached to the net for good luck and then threw it in the water.

They caught white perch, bay anchovies, rockfish, shad and spot fish.

At the end of the day, Tyler Hamilton said she had a new appreciation and deeper understanding of the bay.

"I realize now that some of the things that I do regularly affects the health of the bay - washing my hair or pouring soda down the drain," said Tyler, 14, of Edgewood. "I learned that I need to watch what I do so I can help take care of the ecosystem and the bay."

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