By Hugh Markey, January 2024
Sixth graders from North Stonington’s Wheeler Middle School had a chance to learn about watersheds and their importance thanks to a grant from the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council. Through collaboration with the North Stonington Sustainability Committee, Project Oceanology, a nonprofit based in CT, provided hands-on, experientially focused STEM programming about the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed’s rivers and surroundings. Students were provided the opportunity to study and interact with live plants and animals, as they learned about the physical and biological structure of this important habitat.
Brian Tucker, part-time marine science educator for Project Oceanology, spent several days with the classes leading hands-on STEM lessons in the classroom, followed by field work on Barn Island. “The students learned about watersheds and their importance, as well as the impact upstream communities have on the greater Long Island Sound and eventually out to the ocean,” Tucker said.
We proposed a project that would get kids involved and get them to understand their local watershed and human impacts,” said Andrew Ely, executive director of Oceanology.
The first segment of the lesson took place in the classroom, with Tucker at the helm. “There’s a hook in the lesson that gets the kids excited,” Tucker said. “The lesson is called ‘Mystery Water’, and the kids use a variety of instruments to determine where each of three water samples come from.You could see when they figured out that this mystery sample X came from a certain place, you see that ‘aha’ moment in their faces. That’s something I remember.”
In addition to the testing, Tucker did a field marsh study with the students. Tucker explained that , “what is nice about this program was that we could take that foundation that we built in the classroom into the field to conduct similar tests. You saw how comfortable they were with testing water quality, doing things like measuring the salinity or taking the temperature. It was impactful for them to be out in a beautiful area.”
Tucker reflected on the project, saying “it always makes an impression on the students. They get to go down into the marsh. They get to see and maybe change some of their perspectives of what this environment is. They are finding the animals and finding the plants that live there. That’s hands on, and you can just see how unique it is.”
For Brian Tucker, lessons like the one delivered with the help of the grant have an important target audience. “Environmental consciousness is best created in younger aged children. Giving them a sense of stewardship or ownership of an environment that they live in; that they are not separate from it, but actually live in these natural environments. We want them to care about it, you know, we care about what we understand. If you can kind of spark that interest early on, hopefully that leads to greener communities later in life.”