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From STEM to Stern: A week with Ocean Explorers

At Maritime Gloucester we inspire people to learn through hands-on experiential education. We serve many different groups on our campus, including our members, group tours, school field trips, vacationing families, scheduled programs, research organizations, partnering institutions, and the general visiting public. For more than a decade, a focal

point of our mission has been to serve the Gloucester Public Schools and provide a curriculum geared towards our unique blend of maritime heritage and marine science. We believe that giving our youth an opportunity to learn at Maritime Gloucester deepens their understanding of science and culture while strengthening their sense of community and identity. We do not charge the schools for our programs. We raise the funds ourselves to bring this curriculum to the schools and we dedicate our staff time and use of our campus to this purpose.

For this article, we are going to peel back that placeholder word “programs” and provide an in-depth look at some of the highlights of just one of our programs: Ocean Explorers.

First the numbers. This past year we were fortunate to serve 663 students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades of every Gloucester elementary school. Each individual student engaged with us 6 times over their school year for a total of 10 hours of instruction. In the Fall, each one of the 15 classes came to Maritime Gloucester for a 3-hour field trip and again in the spring at the end of the school year. In the winter months staff visited each of the 36 classrooms 4 times with scaffolded lessons. This past year we accomplished this with a staff of only 4 part-time marine-science and aquarium educators! Sessions last from one class (1 hour) to 3 hours on-site.

What do we teach? We teach a progressive curriculum that meets STEM and Massachusetts State educational standards. But we do more than that! Our hands-on curriculum, provided in our culturally-rich, historically-significant setting, adds depth and value to the experience and increases retention. We make sure the students are engaged with the Harbor!

We teach several different topic modules depending on grade, time of year, and length of the session. Quite often we split up the visiting class into groups of 15 to 20 and do a round robin of educational offerings. A group will start in one area of our campus and then switch places with another group to learn a different topic module until all students have been through all the modules. In any given session we utilize the Sarah Fraser Robbins Classroom, the Ice House, the Sea Pocket Aquarium, the Wet Lab, Microscope Lab, the Harriet Webster Pier, and the Gorton’s Seafoods Gallery to teach these lessons. Our diligent staff spends much of the day prepping the rooms, gathering materials, and reviewing/updating teaching points to ensure a positive and engaging lesson. Being hands-on necessitates addressing multiple logistical needs to ensure participation for all students.

3rd grade student experiences include:

  • Plankton Tow and Introduction to Microscope Lab

  • Sea Star Observation and Experiment

  • Fish Form and Function

  • Habitats and Adaptation

  • Food Chain

  • Go Mummichog

  • Fossils

  • Research Vessel – Harbor and Habitat Exploration aboard the Schooner Ardelle including hauling of lobster traps and underwater camera

  • Squid Dissection

  • Other rotating activities like fish printing, simple systems and steering mechanisms, and “Mommy can I keep it?” where we talk about animals and the shells they might find and how they should be cared for

4th grade student modules include:

  • Crab Lab – an introduction to invasive species

  • The Living Dock – Fouling Communities

  • Mapping and Modeling

  • Invasive Species

  • Food Webs

  • Dichotomous Key

  • Waves All Around Us – Characteristics of sound and water waves

  • Research Vessel – Where we are and Orienteering aboard the Schooner Ardelle

  • Erosion

  • Other rotating activities like weathering, renewable energy, kinetic energy, inheritance (lobster) and lead line projects

5th grade students have the following module experiences:

  • The Circle of Life in Ecosystems

  • Algae Lab and Algae Pressing

  • Marine Debris

  • Timely Tides

  • Watershed

  • Water on Earth

  • Research Vessel – Data Collection and Water Quality aboard the Schooner Ardelle

  • The Unassuming Oyster and Water Quality

  • Other rotating activities like weight mass, energy for life processes, and migration

We tailor options to suit the needs of the teacher, their current studies, and our progressive curriculum through the years. We have updated our curriculum this past spring to include Tide Pool Ecologist. Many out-of-session staff hours are spent learning, adapting, updating, refining, training up staff and practice the delivery of our lessons.

This week’s Ocean Explorers’ schedule offers a glimpse of the typical week:

Monday: Plum Cove 5th brought 40 students that we split into two groups - One group spent 1.5 hours on Ardelle (Water Quality) and the other group spent 1.5 hours on shore in the Classroom and Ice House.

Tuesday: East Gloucester 5th brought 43 students that we split into two groups for the same activities as Monday’s students.

Wednesday: Beeman 5th brought three classes totaling 53 students that we split into three groups providing three different lessons, including one sailing on board the Schooner Ardelle.

Friday: West Parish 5th will bring 47 students which we will split into two groups, or possibly three to enable smaller class size instruction.

A lot of activity, and value, goes into that one word of “programs”! In addition to Ocean Explorers we are offering afterschool programs, and field trip opportunities each week, sometimes multiple field trips in a week. For instance, today we have an 80-person field trip from a Glen Urquhart elementary in Beverly. This is a, non-Ocean Explorers field trip but we utilize some Ocean Explorers modules and curriculum. Our staff also leads general public admission engagement with Interpreter-led opportunities in each area of our campus.

We utilize each and every part of our campus to provide experiential education options for all our guests. Your help and support enable these programs (and so many more like them!) to be possible. Supporting Maritime Gloucester is a great way to help us bring these quality programs to more young people and the general public. Thank you for all that you do to support our efforts.

Amanda Madeira, Director of Education

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