Climate Stewards Grant Allows GCOOS to Help Develop Hands-On STEM Lessons That Can Be Used by Students Throughout the Gulf

Good things happen for students who have an innovative teacher in the classroom. Great things happen when that teacher collaborates with other like-minded educators to provide unique learning opportunities for their students. On Feb. 22 Bay Point Elementary School’s gifted teacher, Renee Hale, and students in grades 3-5 partnered with teachers and students in the Lakewood High School Aquatic Management Systems and Environmental Technology program and educators from Tampa Bay Watch and the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), to restore coastal habitat in St. Petersburg, Florida.

ClimateStewards-HandsOnRestoration-Feb2017At the start of the 2016-17 school year, GCOOS Outreach and Education lead, Dr. Chris Simoniello, began implementing a mini-grant from the NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project. As part of the grant award, students must participate in hands-on activities focused on mitigating or adapting to the impacts of climate change. Leveraging this opportunity with ongoing outreach efforts of GCOOS and the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) project, Simoniello developed weekly hands-on lessons and collaborated with Hale on teaching the STEM component of Bay Point’s “Waters of the World” gifted students theme.

The first field trip was a visit to Lakewood High School, a Tampa Bay Watch “Bay Grasses in Classes” partner, where the high school students cultivate marsh plants later used in restoration projects. The younger students learned about the cultivation process and were partnered with James Kostka’s high schoolers to conduct quantitative assessments of biodiversity. Later in the year, the Lakewood High students, led by biology teacher Justin Bending, mentored the elementary students when they conducted restoration work at Bay Vista Park. Tampa Bay Watch’s Martha Gruber provided the tools and background information for all participants.

In addition to the environmental benefits of restoring vulnerable coastal habitats and mitigating climate impacts through carbon sequestration, the activities empowered students: Post-activity surveys indicated that the elementary-high school interactions are a powerful way to engage students in both teaching and learning and to help them develop leadership skills. Elementary and high school students both appreciated the post-planting opportunity for unstructured exploration along the coast. Wrote one fifth grader: “I enjoyed that we could get wet in the soggy sand and nobody would tell us ‘no!’ We could find and touch things and be the kids we are!” Another wrote: “I learned that oyster bars and marsh grasses have similar roles. They both prevent erosion, trap marine pollution and provide habitats for animals. I enjoyed getting wet, exploring the coast and meeting the high schoolers.”

CimateSteward-Hands-OnProject-GroupShot“If the future of our oceans is in the hands of these kids, I’m optimistic that all will be well,” Simoniello said. “They are knowledgeable, passionate about the environment and exceptional role models. They captivated the younger kids in a way that is virtually impossible for anyone over the age of 18.”

GCOOS educator Grant Craig was also on hand to help students with the restoration project and is now taking the STEM lessons Simoniello developed, cross-referencing with state and federal standards and guidelines and developing web-ready content for educators throughout the Gulf to use in their own projects and classrooms. These materials should be available at gcoos.org in April.