Ultramarine Utopia

There’s nothing like the blues of the ocean for clearing the head, lifting the spirit, and finding utopia.

The Merrimack River where it meets the Atlantic, as seen looking north from Plum Island toward Salisbury, MA  (K.Nollet, 2015)
The Merrimack River where it meets the Atlantic, as seen looking north from Plum Island toward Salisbury, MA (K.Nollet, 2015)

Every season at the beach has its unique beauty and tone.  One teacher colleague of mine believed this was essential science for children. She took her class on an annual field trip to her Maine beach house, to teach them about the ecology of the winter beach.

Spring beach trips in New England are chilly and unpredictable.  Last weekend I went to Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the infinite shades of ultramarine blues in the sea restored my creative spirit.

 

Worms Conquer! Science Teaching For Us All

This year, Sam’s school hired a science specialist.  Every Tuesday she rolls her supply-stocked cart from room to room and teaches the science content students must know by spring.  Sam’s class’s 40-minute slot begins at 10:20.

“I hate to admit it, but I’m relieved,” he said. “It’ll free me up to focus on my kids’ literacy and math. Divide and conquer, I guess.”

Conquer science?  Yes.  Divide the responsibility? No—share the responsibility.

While Sam’s school made good use of a grant to address science learning, Sam and I talked about how to incorporate science into the life of the classroom.  It’s our job to help tomorrow’s scientists—who are in front of us today—learn to wonder, question, experiment and imagine.

Also, to boost my case, I mentioned that if worms could talk they’d suggest that Sam start a worm farm.

Worms are the perfect classroom companions and they teach while they work.  I shared my experiences creating worm farms from scratch:  kids bring in the materials, create the farm, add the worms, and by this point they’ve already learned a lot.  Sam wrote down a supply list:

  • A clear container, like an old aquarium
  • Dirt, worms, and leaves–students bring it all in
  • Dark paper or a paper bag to tape around the aquarium, so worms think they’re underground.

Let the students do everything, I advised, and leave plenty of time to touch and examine everything.  Then:

  1. Layer dirt and leaves in aquarium.
  2. Place the worms on top.
  3. Tape dark paper around the sides so the worms could do their work in peace and quiet.

My students decided to give the worms a couple weeks of peace before peeking behind the paper to see the magic.  Worms in tunnels!  Vacant tunnels!  Leaves munched!  Castings left behind!

The students’ curiosity exploded. They talked, listened, read, wrote, drew, measured, questioned, problem solved, researched and wondered about worms. The best assessment of their learning?  Overhearing students talk about worms with each other in casual conversation.

At times, no one gave the worms a thought and we focused on other science topics.  Then someone would wander over to the worms, pull away the paper and discover there was plenty more to observe and discover.

Of course, this isn’t just about worms.  It’s about creating interdisciplinary learning in science that works because it’s hands-on and fun. It’s naturally differentiated and inspires. It’s available to every student, all day and all year. Sam pointed out that it meets practically every goal in the Common Core standards, too.

Faster than you can say oligochaetologist, Sam was on board.  He also remembered reading a poem by Edgar Allan Poe in college–so here is “The Conquering Worm” for you to appreciate in all its gothic splendor.  Have some fun reading it before you invite your worms to school.