Deja vu is a French loaner word to describe the feeling that one has lived through the same situation before. This spring, while restarting a program I created many years ago, I sometimes feel deja vu.
The Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Program started when my own child was in elementary school. Some of the first students who helped fine tune the lessons are now finishing college and working adult jobs. It took numerous people and meetings to bring the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Program to fruition, but every year more students received some marine science exposure, some time with local scientists, a field trip, or a classroom visit by a scientist.
As grant-funded programs do, the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Program went through fat years and lean years. In 2020, when COVID swept through town and the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center building that houses the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Program was closed to the public, I had to close the program. Now, three years later, we are finally hearing kid’s voices in the building again, and we are rebuilding piece by piece what the program once had to offer.
We started this February with the fifth-grade unit, which is designed to teach the basics of how to conduct a scientific experiment. Students make predictions, handle live animals, collect and record data and, in a follow up in their classroom, draw a graph and perform a data analysis.
Following the experiment at the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Program, they also enjoy some time handling the animals at the touch tank and getting a close-up look at the crabs in the NOAA wet lab during a tour led by one of the scientists.
Once all the fifth-grade classes have had their field trip we will change the lab setup and get ready to welcome third-grade classes for a unit about the marine food web.
Where does the energy come from? Why does Alaska have so many good fish, crabs and even whales? Students use microscopes to see the one celled algae that are at the bottom of the marine food chain, the plankton animals that eat those tiny algae, and the invertebrates that filter feed on plankton.
They inspect seaweeds and learn about grazers like sea urchins that eat the seaweeds and are in turn eaten by sea otters, crows and people. They also talk about marine mammals at the top of the food web and the differences between toothed whales and baleen whales. It’s a lot of information to take in, all of it accompanied by touching, holding and observing animals and their structures.
In the fourth-grade unit, the food web concept is taken a step further with a closer look at the role that sea otters occupy in their ecosystem of kelp beds. Again, the key concept is understanding the connections and interactions in the marine environment. The learning is all about our local marine environment and uses live animals to observe as well as volunteer scientists to interact with and learn from.
Each unit in the Ocean Science Discovery Lab is followed by a trip downstairs and time at the touch tank. In third and fourth grade there is another activity planned and students play a game, designed to simultaneously entertain and educate.
As spring begins to creep into Kodiak, we will see more and more of the intertidal animals return to the tide pools. Soon, temperatures will allow a bit more outdoor time with students on the beach.
Hopefully, some of them will remember their day in the Ocean Science Discovery Program and recognize some of the tide pool inhabitants. This week, a young teacher’s aide told me that he remembered being a student in this program. Last year I bought a train ticket in Anchorage and the young man behind the counter recognized me from his time in school when he went to the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Lab.
Those encounters are amazing to me. Not every student will remember this day when they are grown up, but some do. The program will not inspire every student to love science or become an ocean steward, but if it makes a difference for some, it is worth having.
What does it take to raise a child? It takes everything. What does it take to teach a child? It takes everyone who is willing to share their knowledge and skills. Thank you to all who make this program possible: NOAA and all those who work there, the Kodiak Island Borough School District, teachers, parents, students, aides, bus drivers and volunteer scientists.
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