Over the past year, the NWFSC has been working to bring our real-world science into the hands of students at the
Jane Addams K-8 School, the only environmental science-based elementary and middle school in Seattle.
Science specialist Christine Benita, together with NWFSC staff Kathi Lefebvre, Preston Kendrick, Elizabeth Frame, and Casey Ralston, collaborated on a series of lesson plans and videos for an interactive educational kit. The science kit will help students learn about plankton, understand how some species of phytoplankton release harmful toxins that move through the marine food web, and identify the impacts of harmful toxins on seafood safety and wildlife/human health.
This May, Benita and staff piloted the lessons for the Jane Addams’ sixth grade science classes. Students watched a
National Geographic video clip of Lefebvre and other experts attempting to solve the mystery of “zombie” sea lions, which exhibited strange behavior and even died after eating contaminated seafood. Students discussed the possible culprit and learned how scientists approach real-world problems. They also had a chance to put their critical thinking skills into action during a brainstorming session, and then peered into microscopes to identify toxic phytoplankton species using a species key. The lessons culminated with students assembling complex marine food webs and tracing how biotoxins released by harmful algal blooms can move throughout the web and result in adverse health impacts for wildlife and humans.
Prior to piloting these lessons plans for the Jane Addams sixth grade classroom, Christine Benita spent some time with Northwest Indian College students as a participant in the NWFSC’s second annual EAT (Experience Algal Blooms) workshop. Here, she and the tribal students got a hands-on demonstration in how to extract and measure domoic acid, a pervasive seafood toxin that is released during blooms of the harmful algae Pseudo-nitzchia and can accumulate in shellfish and finfish.
NWFSC’s partnership with the Jane Addams K-8 school will continue this summer, as Casey Ralston and Christine Benita will be presenting the new educational kit to teachers and informal educators gathering for the National Marine Educators Association annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska. These lessons will ultimately be more widely available as an extension to commonly used science kits.