Studying ecosystems is a major component of elementary science. Ecosystem education is recommended for nearly every primary grade in both the Science Literacy New Hampshire Curriculum Frameworks and the Next Generation Science Standards. Learning about ecosystems is not only a high interest topic of life sciences among young students – it also provides them with a stimulating and illuminating opportunity to learn science by doing science depending on where they live. For a vast majority of New Hampshire students, the rocky shore ecosystem is an accessible learning laboratory.
Cindy VanHooyDonk & Megan Smith
This week I had a chance to shadow one of the Seacoast Science Center’s naturalists while she facilitated a classroom visit to the rocky shore. It was a gorgeous Thursday morning with sunny skies, warm waters and plenty of space to explore the ecosystem’s diverse organisms and environmental elements. To my excited surprise, the time slot I chose to observe belonged to Sutton Central Elementary School – one of the four elementary schools in my own district!
Kelly Tivnan, SSC Naturalist
The Seacoast Science Center’s naturalist that allowed me to pester her with questions and tag alongside her all morning was Kelly Tivnan. Ms. Tivnan is a soft-spoken yet spirited individual who decided to work for the SSC because of her love of the seacoast, joy in teaching, and dedication to education and the conservation of our state’s rocky shore. You can tell she adores children and highly values the responsibility of providing valuable learning experiences for visiting schools. This is reflected not only in her work but also in her life as a proud mother of four and a new member of the Middleton, NH school board.
Ms. Tivnan’s responsibilities can be divided into three major categories: 1) educate students about the rocky shore’s dynamic community, 2) facilitate on-site student investigations of the rocky shore and 3) field and answer questions from students. I am thankful for her hard-working efforts in her local community and at the SSC, and am grateful that I had the chance to shadow her morning session with Sutton Central.
Science class at the rocky shore is an experience that is not only memorable, but as I have mentioned before in my blog, an educational paradise. The ability to be involved with inquiry-based learning at one of the world’s most interesting and diverse ecosystems – one that is quite perilous for its inhabitants and constantly changing – is an extremely valuable endeavor. I was very appreciative once more of my time at the rocky shore and being able to spend it with Ms. Smith’s fantastic third grade class! It was wonderful to be able to watch her students take their content knowledge from the classroom and apply and refine their science inquiry skills at the rocky shore…it was learning science by doing science at its best.
If you hike or even take brief strolls in New England’s deciduous forest, you have definitely walked by a hobblebush. This plant is humble and common, yet in May produces beautiful bright white blossoms. Its leaves also change color throughout the year, from a brilliant green in the spring to a reddish-purple in autumn. The publishing company Hobblebush Books and Hobblebush Design out of Brookline, New Hampshire identifies well with its name – it is a humble business that could be easily missed, but is accurately recognized as truly amazing when discovered.
The road to Hobblebush
When searching for a design company for the creation of the rocky shore curriculum, I was reading Poetry Showcase: an anthology of New Hampshire poets edited by our state poet laureate, Alice B. Fogel. Admiring the book design at the same time I was enjoying the content, I discovered it was published by Hobblebush Books. A few emails and one meeting in person later, this talented independent press agreed to help me create a rocky shore curriculum that we hope will assist educators and students throughout the state and beyond!
Kirsty Walker, President of Hobblebush Books & Design
Today I visited Kirsty Walker, president of Hobblebush Books and Design, to discuss the layout and process of creating the curriculum. Kirsty is a great and talented individual to work with, and I am extremely happy that she will be in charge of the design of the curriculum. She asked me my expectations of when I wanted to see the curriculum completed, and I was hesitant to answer as I was not sure if my expectations were unreasonable. I suggested that it would be great to reflect on Christmas morning that the curriculum part of my sabbatical was completed, and thankfully she was confident that it was a reasonable request!
Here is an outline of what we will be doing over the next few months:
- I will be typing up lessons, one at a time, and sending them to Kirsty for editing and design purposes.
- I will be sharing my lessons with the New Hampshire Sea Grant program, the Seacoast Science Center, and the New England Aquarium to help with revisions and editing.
- I will be gathering images from both Adam Kelley, the main illustrator for this project, as well as from the Seacoast Science Center.
- Kirsty will be working on designing all the lessons together along with other complimentary pages, and creating one pdf file with all the content, as well as individual pdf files for each lesson.
I am so thankful for Hobblebush Design, who is “dedicated to publishing books that feature a unique voice and make a difference.” When all is said and done, I am confident that this curriculum will make a difference, and with Hobblebush’s touch, will be unique, professional, and beautiful.
Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside. The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course. Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat. However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.
The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.” I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household). This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences. Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:
Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science! Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well. Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.
Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement. The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution. Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?
Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf). I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:
- Seek out science professional development opportunities
- Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
- Refine science units and student experiences continuously
- Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
- Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
- Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
- Allow mistakes and messes
- Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
- Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
- Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your students
I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:
*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)
For the past two years, one of the most supportive and influential collaborators in the formation of my sabbatical project has been the Seacoast Science Center (SSC). Staff members from this amazing organization go full tilt when it comes to educating others about the ocean’s ecosystems and their conservation – and they are taking this energy and infusing it into the development of our rocky shore curriculum for New Hampshire educators and their students.
Here is a brief overview of the Seacoast Science Center and their mission:
- They are a non-profit marine science education organization located at Odiorne State Park in Rye, New Hampshire.
- Their facility houses interactive and educational exhibits for all ages.
- They provide several programs on marine education on a variety of subjects for a variety of age groups.
- They are home to the New Hampshire’s Marine Mammal Rescue Team – a group of dedicated individuals responding to all reports of live and deceased marine mammals in NH’s coastal region.
The three individuals who are helping me most on this project so far have been Kate Leavitt (Director of Mission Initiatives – on left), Sarah Toupin (School and Group Program Manager – on right), and Perrin Chick (former Education Director). Each of these passionate educators has already provided a tremendous amount of ideas, insights and expertise in both the development of my project and in the growth of my own knowledge and enthusiasm. I am very much looking forward to collaborating with them throughout this sabbatical year.
Here are the main ways we are going to be working together:
- Kate and Sarah have agreed to help me with the creation of this curriculum – providing feedback in the drafting, revising and editing of this project.
- The SSC has agreed to provide images and illustrations to increase the educational and visual value of the curriculum.
- The SSC is willing to provide me with occasional office space during the duration of my sabbatical.
- The SSC is going to provide me with opportunities to shadow their naturalists during their educational programs.
- The SSC provides several learning events that I will take advantage of, including this year’s BioBlitz.
The Seacoast Science Center and its dedicated staff is a blazing lighthouse of marine education to our region’s residents and tourists. They provide innumerable amounts of expertise, skills, programs and compassion to those interested in learning about marine wildlife and their habitat. With the smallest amount of coastline, NH’s residents need to learn about the value and importance of their rocky shore and how they can be productive stewards. I am extremely excited and thankful to be working with the SSC and its staff, and will continue to provide updates on our collaborative efforts!
Why the rocky shore? Why learn about the rocky shore? Why teach about the rocky shore? Why dedicate an entire year to creating and distributing a curriculum on the rocky shore? These are questions I have been asked and hope to answer in this succinct article.
Let me first say this: I chose to invest numerous hours after school, during my kids’ practices, after my kids’ bedtimes, on weekends and during holidays for two years to receive the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical. I did this because I felt very strongly that elementary school teachers need more 1) science curriculum, 2) science professional development, and 3) science instruction at the collegiate level. I also did this because I felt very strongly that elementary school students need improved science instruction and curriculum.
One way I felt I could assist elementary science educators in New Hampshire and beyond was by creating a quality curriculum at an excellent price (free). I initially chose the rocky shore because I am knowledgeable about the rocky shore, I love to teach about the rocky shore, and my students have always loved learning about the rocky shore. And one more thing: almost every grade in elementary school learns about ecosystems.
To be honest, there are a plethora (wanted to fit that word in somewhere) of reasons why I chose the rocky shore, and even more reasons as to why the rocky shore should be taught to all New Hampshire schoolchildren. But for sake of time, I have compartmentalized all of these reasons into three large categories:
- Significance – the rocky shore is an extremely important ecosystem. The rocky shore is rich with animal life and plant life that impacts mankind in major ways. Since this is supposed to be a succinct article I’ll be brief: we eat lots of mollusks, crustaceans and fish. We also consume a lot of seaweed (i.e. ice cream), and use it in many ways, too (i.e. lotion). Oh, and are you concerned about the rainforest? Just remember that phytoplankton produces at least 50% of our oxygen!
- Relevance – the rocky shore is an ecosystem in New Hampshire. It is a part of our state, which means we are responsible for it. The rocky shore is where the land meets the sea, which means it is where the people meet the sea. It is an ecosystem that is highly susceptible to human contact, and since it is so important to us (above) we should definitely be treating it right. And out-of-sight may mean out-of-mind, but it certainly doesn’t mean out-of-contact when it comes to the watershed. Know of a river near you, New Hampshirite? Yep, that eventually drains into the rocky shore!
- Abundance – the rocky shore is an educational paradise. Here is an incomplete list of a vast quantity of valuable learning topics the rocky shore ecosystem holds: interdependence, competition, adaptation, community, conservation, short term & long term changes, invasive species, photosynthesis, predator-prey relationships and more. On top of that, the rocky shore is an engaging environment that is accessible to many, so many students not only have the opportunity to learn facts, but to observe facts as well. And if not, programs like the UNH Marine Docent Program can help.
That is why I chose the rocky shore in a nutshell (seashell).
Choosing a curriculum is kind of like choosing between a cat and a dog. You need to consider the following:
- What features does each one possess that are beneficial?
- What features does each one possess that are drawbacks?
- Which one will meet the specific family’s (school’s) needs?
- Which one will be productive for both parent (teacher) and child (student)?
- Which one will be both productive and affordable?
Recently I’ve felt like I’m in similar “shoes” as Angela from The Office. For those who are not familiar with this character, Angela adored her cat Sprinkles – so much so that she went to great lengths to keep it alive. We weighed the above options because our children have been clamoring for a pet. We came to the conclusion that a couple of kittens would be the best option for our family at this time. But after a few weeks one kitten came down with a nasty fever – complete with kitty boogers. I didn’t even know kitty boogers were a thing! The other feline came down with something even worse – ringworm. Definitely gross.
So now our two kittens are quarantined, while I have taken on the role of Angela, giving both cats ringworm medication once a day, and one cat amoxicillin twice a day. This is going to go on for the next three weeks at least! But do we feel like we have made the wrong decision? No, because we considered the five options above. Despite our best intentions and those fur balls being quite adorable, unforeseen circumstances happen.
I have been on several committees that have been a part of piloting and choosing different types of curriculum for our district. Now I’m dealing with a different kind of animal (pun intended) – I’m making a curriculum.
Thankfully I have several talented professional experts assisting me with this project, including Mark Wiley, Assistant Director of Marine Education at the University of New Hampshire. I recently met with Mark at his office in Lee, New Hampshire, and I am extremely thankful for his foresight and expertise. He provided me with a number of valuable resources and ideas, and gave me direction of how to develop the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum.
Mark equipped me with a planning model that I can use when designing and revising lessons. It was a “planning cycle” of four categories that all need to be seriously addressed when creating a curriculum: 1) content standard, 2) performance standard, 3) pedagogy / resources, and 4) assessment and evaluation. This model, along with his suggestion of creating a document that provides teachers with options of how to sequence activities will be quite beneficial to the preparation of the curriculum. His vast marine knowledge will be of continuous assistance to this project.
So, as I continue to coat pills with soft salmon Meow Mix treats and feed them to our kittens, I will also work diligently to create a curriculum that will hopefully be very beneficial to both students and teachers and meet many classrooms’ needs. I will do my best to ensure it benefits our state’s precious rocky shore ecosystem as well.
Let’s face it: if public school was given a mascot, it would probably be the scapegoat. Why are students from other countries performing better in academics? It’s the public school teachers’ fault. Why are the morals of our country declining? It’s the public school teachers’ fault. Why is there more bullying, violence, and drug use? Yep – public school teachers’ fault.
And let me get this straight – public school teachers should be held responsible for their actions and duties. If a school is struggling as a whole in any category, or the majority of youth in a particular community are dealing with a certain problem, it should be on the educators of that neighborhood to work on resolving the issue.
But there are a whole lot of problems and influences that occur outside of the classroom walls – and are brought into the school building – that impact the direction of the local and national community. It is often not the public school teachers’ fault that there is a local or national crisis, even if it is a youth crisis. But since we are with many of our nation’s children for seven hours a day…scapegoat.
How can public school educators go about obtaining a different mascot? I think the first and very crucial step to dismissing myths and building confidence in our public school system is by doing one of the things I enjoy most about teaching – serving the community.
Why should teachers serve the community outside classroom walls? For the following reasons:
- Modeling Citizenship – serving the community outside of the classroom walls is a great example of modeling citizenship to students. Oftentimes teachers can involve students in community service projects.
- Building Relationships – serving the community enables me to build healthy relationships with great individuals and local businesses and organizations. These relationships can often lead to amazing collaborative efforts, too.
- Creating Transparency – unless someone is a parent of a student, rumors and media are what build many people’s perceptions of the local school. Serving the community allows those who may not see you in any other circumstance observe who you really are and what you are all about. It enables an educator to tear down negative misconceptions and build up positive community impressions.
I recently held a workshop this summer on exploring the rocky shore at a fantastic local bookstore called MainStreet BookEnds of Warner. I was able to model good citizenship, build stronger relationships with both the store and those who attended (thanks Live Wire Daycare and Preschool!), and play a small part in giving the public a look at what our school district is all about.
If you’re wondering how you and your school can serve the local community, below are some examples from the school I am proud to a part of…but the most important thing is to serve your community in the unique ways you are equipped to do so, and in ways your community could use some assistance.
- saving items like apple cores from school lunches and giving them to local farms for their animals.
- having annual food and clothing drives around the holidays to feed and clothe those in need.
- collaborating with a local farm stand and have students learn how to grow a garden while helping out the business.
- holding an annual snack shop and have students choose a charity to donate all the proceeds.
- conducting poetry readings or art shows at the local library and open it to the public.
- teaching workshops on specific content you are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about.
- reading to students and other youth at the local bookstore or library.