By Natalie Strom
A local tourist attraction on Marco Island is now offering marine education to Collier County students. The Dolphin Explorer, a dolphin-sightseeing boat owned by Sea Excursions, has developed a ten-week lesson plan for grades two through five revolving around the science attained on every single one of its public-offered trips.
As a sightseeing vessel, guests board the boat knowing they will be seeing a dolphin or two. What they don’t realize is that they are actually part of a science experiment. The only on-going study of dolphin activity in Southwest Florida, crew members use guests to help track dolphins, identify them and identify their behavior. All a part of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Study, crew members of the Dolphin Explorer ask guests to help identify each dolphin they see by their unique dorsal fins that act as a fingerprint.
The team of four, Chris Desmond, James Livaccari, Kristen Froelich and Kent Morse, have been accumulating data since 2006 and have identified 60 to 70 dolphins that “live” on Marco Island. The first two babies of the season were spotted just days ago.
Guests of the Dolphin Explorer leave with an extensive knowledge of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Study as well as a new sense of enthusiasm regarding conservation methods. The crew of the Dolphin Explorer knows they can stimulate this same response in students in Collier County and other parts of the country. After all, their pilot program in Pittsburgh last year was so successful, the two participating schools have signed on for this year as well.
Susan Kosko teaches at Crafton Elementary School in Pittsburgh, one of the two schools which utilized the Dolphin Explorer’s learning program last year. She is excited to share the new, streamlined program with her new students after such positive results last year. “Students were eager to enter my class and reluctant to leave,” she says of the program. “I witnessed my students become leaders among their peers.”
Now, Collier County schools have a chance to try out this innovative and exciting learning method. “Our main priority over the summer was to structure each lesson plan and make sure we have our own research involved. Every lesson plan about our local dolphins will feature the numbers and the data that we have. It’s very personalized,” explains Kristen Froelich, Education and Media Specialist for the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project.
Schools will have the option of a two or three day-a-week program for ten weeks. The environmental studies program will be offered three times throughout the current school year.
Schools can sign up to start in October 2012, January 2013 or March 2013. The program is designed to offer up to 30 lesson plans each about 45 minutes in length accompanied by a 15 minute live chat session from the Dolphin Explorer vessel. All lessons are based around the local environment, ocean systems, science and conservation.
“Last year the pilot program was such a success and it had such an effect on the students. It got them more excited about school and reading in particular,” adds Froelich. “We’ve brought in more science, writing and critical thinking. The lessons coincide with the Common Course Standards that 48 of the states follow which basically sets guidelines as to where students should be at each grade level.”
Teachers are sent complete lesson overviews that feature topics such as mangrove systems, dolphin moms and calves, water salinity and much more. Each lesson offers vocabulary, presentations, live interaction with the Dolphin Explorer, readings and worksheets.
The best part of the ten-week course? Students will be offered a field trip at the end, having the chance to go out on the Dolphin Explorer to bring all that they’ve learned into a fun, interactive, real-life setting.
While Collier schools are just learning of the new program now, the Dolphin Explorer crew is hopeful to have schools in the area sign on for the January and March sessions.
Learn more about the program by contacting Kristen Froelich at Kristen@seaexcursions.com or visit www.dolphinstudy.com to learn more about the Dolphin Explorer and its 10,000 Islands.