Spending time in a classroom is one way to learn, but smelling, hearing and touching the subject usually results in reinforcing an educational experience that won’t soon be forgotten. Each year, roughly 3,000 local students have the opportunity to get “a taste” of our local estuary as part of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s field trip programs. Now the reserve is extending that reach exponentially through the “Teachers on the Estuary” (TOTE) program, a highly visible education program that provides hands-on, field-based professional teacher development opportunities across the nation.
The TOTE program was developed by NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System to engage teachers in professional-development activities to increase their knowledge and appreciation of estuarine environments and support the incorporation of estuary and watershed topics into classroom teaching.
Rookery Bay Reserve’s two-day workshop in July was one of four being offeredat National Estuarine Research Reserves around the Gulf of Mexico. The program was organized by education coordinators working for Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office at GTM Research Reserve in northeast Florida, Rookery Bay Reserve in Naples and Apalachicola Reserve in the panhandle. The planning team also included educators with Weeks Bay Reserve in Mobile, Alabama and Jobos Bay Reserve in Puerto Rico.
During the workshop, teachers from Collier County and around the state learned about issues facing estuaries in Southwest Florida through hands-on activities in the classroom and on the water.
“Last year’s program was very successful, and this year we are excited to include our counterpart in Puerto Rico,” said Sarah Falkowski, education coordinator for Rookery Bay Reserve. “The goal of TOTE is to improve teachers’ and students’ understanding of the environment using local examples and to provide resources and experience, as well as to promote stewardshipof watersheds and estuaries.”
On board the reserve’s education vessel, teachers practiced water quality sampling techniques, handled and observed many types of marine life, and learned how to collect plankton. A field trip to a nearby barrier island provided immersive experiences in a mangrove basin forest and a beach walk where teachers learned about the different estuarine habitats and their connections to the land. In the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, sessions led by reserve educators and community partners focused on sea turtle and shark research, shorebird monitoring, invasive species and a myriad of online tools and other resources that are available for teachers to use in their lesson planning.
Meghan Fellner, an educator with WaterVentures Learning Lab in Crystal Springs, Florida, found the experience extremely valuable.
“We usually deal with fresh water so it is very interesting to see the connections between freshand saltwater habitats,” said Fellner. “It is important for everyone to know that what we do on land has direct effects on the ocean.”
Grisell Abad, an educator at Village School, a private K-9 school in Naples, said, “This has been amazing! This workshop has not only made me more aware of our environment, but I’ve learned new ways to connect my students with the estuary, and plan to collaborate with other programs at our school, as well as in the community.”
Kelly Brant who works for Six Mile Charter Academy in Ft. Myers said that the hands-on learning experience about Florida wildlife and estuaries will be helpful in teaching her students. “This information is essential to take back to my classroom,” she said. “I will be developing more hand-on activities because things make more sense to students when they can actually touch what they are learning about.”
[/caption] src=”http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/B14-CBN-08-05-16-6.jpg” alt=”B14-CBN-08-05-16-6″ width=”200″ height=”129″ />Expected outcomes for students include:
• Raise awareness of the connection between the ocean and students’ lives.
• Enhance ability to analyze and interpret data.
• Improve understanding about how scientists use monitoring data to study and protect ocean resources.
• Gain a better understanding of the scientific method, including the concept that science is an ongoing, iterative process.
• Improve understanding of estuarine ecology, including functions and values of estuaries.
• Foster a sense of stewardship of watersheds, estuaries, and oceans.
The Gulf state TOTE program was funded through a grant from NOAA’s B-WET (Bay Watershed Education Training) program. For more information about the Gulf of Mexico program visit www.sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/outreach_education/gulf_b_wet/index.html.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA.
Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986, and joined the staff at the Reserve in 2000.