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Henry Milliken of the NEFSC's Protected Species Branch discusses gear adaptation to prevent turtles and other protected species from entanglement. Photo Credit: Stacey Klimkosky, Truro Central School
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ocean-minded buttons Buttons celebrate the day. Photo credit: Stacey Klimkosky, Truro Central School
student scans for a PIt tag on a turtle shellA second grader uses a scanner to check a green turtle shell for a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag. The electronic tags are used by veterinarians to identify pets or livestock and zoo animals and by researchers to identify and track fish and marine animals. Photo credit: Stacey Klimkosky, Truro Central School

stuidents put together a porpoise skeleton on the classroom floor Putting together a harbor porpoise skeleton during a lesson on adaptation. Photo credit: Stacey Klimkosky, Truro Central School

students build lego dam with teacher's guidance Grace Simpkins from the NOEPS program guides students building a dam and bypass system with legos during a lesson on endangered Atlantic salmon. One challenge to salmon migration is obstructions in the river. Photo credit: Stacey Klimkosky, Truro Central School

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April 6, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Students Pledge to be “Ocean Minded” at Truro’s NOAA Ocean Day

Learning about the ocean has special meaning for students from kindergarten through grade 6 at the Truro Central School on Cape Cod. March 22nd was NOAA Ocean Day at the school, a day to interact in the classroom with scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

On this day, scientists teach science and share their experiences through hands-on activities. Topics include marine mammals, food webs, sea turtles, fishing gear and by-catch, endangered Atlantic salmon, bioacoustics, and adaptations and climate change.

Grace Simpkins from the Protected Species Branch’s NOAA Outreach and Education on Protected Species program presented “marine mammals in our backyard” to kindergarten students, who enjoyed stretching out on the floor to see how many kindergartners long a North Atlantic right whale is. It’s 11 and 1/2! She also gave an Atlantic salmon lesson to the 6th grade, discussed marine mammal adaptations and climate change with the 4th grade, and food webs with the third grade.

The sixth graders plotted their salmon’s journey downstream using real data, guessing which predator may have eaten their fish, and were excited to see if their fish “made it” to the sea. They also built dams with Legos and then designed a way for the salmon to get past the dam, using some innovative solutions.

“It was fun to talk about endangered Atlantic salmon because it was all brand new for them. They knew it was a fish but that was it,” said Simpkins. “They really figured out how to plot and map their data, and some even named their fish. We talked about the information gained from the telemetry data that we can use in salmon conservation, and the obstacles facing salmon during the life cycle. I was surprised to find out that some of the students had never seen a dam before.”

Comparing human and porpoise skeletons had some surprises for the fourth grade students when they layed them out side by side on the floor. They learned that harbor porpoises and humans are similar; both humans and porpoises have the same shoulder blades and finger bones, even though the porpoise flipper looks much different than a hand.

Third graders used dolphin or orca grabbers to simulate being a toothed whale and hair picks to mimic baleen in an activity about food webs and what whales eat. Discussion focused on why it is important to understand what marine mammals eat in order to conserve marine mammals and the food webs that support them.

Second grade students learned about sea turtles with turtle researcher Heather Haas, who had students measuring sea turtle shells with calipers, identifying different species, and working as a team to learn about turtle biology and behaviors. They also learned about "too rare to wear" articles made from turtles. Belts, necklaces and other biofacts, provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help educate the public, were passed around. Sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act and it is generally illegal to have anything made from sea turtles.

Gear researcher Henry Milliken spent time with fifth graders, teaching them about bycatch and exploring ideas about how fishing gear can be adapted to let turtles and other protected species escape capture in nets and other fishing gear.

This year, students were challenged to consider what it means to be "ocean minded" and how they can become stewards of their ocean backyard. They also were asked to think about scientists and the work that they do. As a part of the day’s events, TCS students and staff along with the NOAA scientists were invited to sign a pledge to personally work toward being more ocean minded.

“It's always refreshing and fulfilling to see the students' enthusiasm and know that they're not only learning how diverse and complex the ocean is, but also ways they can help protect it,” said Julianne Gurnee, a marine mammal researcher who participated in the event for the first time.  “Watching the looks on their faces when they learn about how a baleen whale eats or when they hear a recording of a seal vocalization for the first time reminds me that passing on our knowledge of the ocean is one of the most important things we can do as scientists.”

For Gurnee, who demonstrated and talked about bioacoustics with first graders, being ocean minded means that “you are aware of how fragile and amazing our oceans are, and that you have pledged to help conserve marine ecosystems in some way.”

NOAA Ocean Day at Truro Central School grew out of a collaboration between NEFSC scientists and two Truro Central School teachers, Stacey Klimkosky and Megan O’Leary, who sailed on NOAA research ships as a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Klimkosky sailed on a hydrographic survey aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier in 2009, O'Leary on a climate survey on the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown in 2007. The scientists and teachers originally met at a regional Teacher at Sea Alumni Workshop at the NOAA Fisheries’ Woods Hole Laboratory in 2012. Klimkosky and O’Leary participated in some of the same experiences at that workshop that the scientists now share with their elementary school students.

“The researchers couldn't be more perfect ambassadors for NEFSC and the science field in general. They share their passion for ocean science in a way that makes our students (about 110 in grades K-6) want to know more,” said Klimkosky. “The students' opinions and ideas are valued. The scientists are all approachable and, as such, make science approachable. Our kids want to be NOAA scientists when they grow up. The scientists talk WITH them and not TO them. There's a big difference. For the hour that they're together, they are ALL scientists--asking questions, developing hypotheses, experimenting, sharing, working together.”

The NOAA Outreach and Education on Protected Species (NOEPS) program became involved when Ocean Day was conceived more than four years ago. NOEPS is an interactive education program developed by researchers Sofie Van Parijs and Genevieve Davis and educator Grace Simpkins in the NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory to share information with local students and excite them about science. Other educators can download teaching materials from the web:

“I most enjoyed seeing how thrilled the students were to have us there,” said Simpkins about the experience. “I love hands on science, and believe the best way for anyone to experience science is by getting their hands on the materials, especially at a young age. Young people are eager to touch the baleen, amazed at the difference in size between a sperm whale and dolphin tooth, and ohh and ahh over the softness of the harbor seal pelt. They had many stories to tell about their experiences with marine animals they had seen on or from the beach.”

“The more that young kids are exposed to the wonders of science the more likely they are to be engaged and informed voters and adults,” Simpkins added. “Also, it's just fun!”

NOAA’s Office of Education, Teacher at Sea program and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation helped sponsor this event by providing educational materials.

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