Sunday, February 2, 2014

Using Oyster Gardening in Youth Education at the New England Aquarium

We recently sat down with Danny Badger, Supervisor of Youth Development Programs at the New England Aquarium to see how the thought-leading institution is incorporating oysters into its marine science camp and course curricula. Approximately 300 children aged 8 to 15 spend a week or more at the institution learning about our ocean and the aquatic environment.
Oyster Growth Data at New England Aquarium
Danny Badger of the New England Aquariumpoints to data on oyster growth. 

Last year Mass Oyster worked with the Aquarium to bring oysters to the site; providing materials and expertise. We were curious as to how the program was unfolding and were impressed with what we saw.

Danny described the initial reaction of the students to the oysters. “When we pull up the oysters, some kids are initially put off by the dirtiness of the tray, those kids tend to self select to become the data recorders. But the other half dive in and explore the trays and the various creatures among them.  That more adventurous participants take the measurements and count the other species living among them. What is interesting is that the data collectors typically overcome their squeamishness and eventually join them in actively examining the mini-biome that has grown around the oysters.” And they can be rewarded by seeing interesting creatures such as the eel like rock-gunnel, sea squirts, the mussels will their rubbery byssal threads, or even a flounder. These creatures are often not featured within the aquarium itself.

Creatures that live in an oyster reef  Rock Gunnel
Rock Gunnel 

Through the oysters, the students get to bridge their experiences in the museum with those in the ocean while applying scientific methods. The students will measure the oysters’ length and weight using sampling techniques or whole population monitoring. This provides them with an opportunity to assess the validity of measurement techniques and begin to think critically about those observations. They can go on to form hypotheses as to why the oysters in certain levels are growing faster or have certain types of species.

They also may load the data onto a computer and use graphing programs to display it in various formats. Badger adds “Based on the data, we ask them to draw conclusions about it. Ultimately, we would like to combine it with other data. This is one of our longer term goals to work more of this type of activity into the school-year Marine Biologist in Training Program.”
“The kids will think about questions, such as why is mortality higher in the top tray? This leads to a discussion and debate, which is valuable to the children.” Badger said.

“One of the nice features of the oysters is that they lend themselves to STEM learning; using spreadsheets and mathematics while allowing for creativity. It takes creativity and conceptual thinking to draw those conclusions. The kids can steer the path of the activity. And thinking through the ambiguities draws them in.”
Without realizing it they are getting exposure to hard science in a fun, interactive way, which makes them much more engaged. It also provides for a different style of learning.
Plans for the future
The Aquarium team is thinking about ways to expand the oyster experiment set; potentially using new locations and different time periods. This will give the students a sense of the bigger picture and empower them to gather larger, diverse data sets that can be examined in different ways.

If you are interested in the New England Aquarium youth programs visit link –

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