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The Marine Science Academy (MSA) at Pensacola’s Booker T. Washington High School engages students in science through laboratory experimentation, research, and field study. Yesterday’s What’s Right post focused on students’ weekly field work on two different community-based initiatives (read here).

In addition to these community initiatives, students in the Marine Science Academy learn science through a “team selected research project,” a “naturalist project,” and a “fishkeeper project.” Four team research projects this year include studies on regeneration, aquaponics, operant conditioning, and dominant species. Their projects are setup in the school’s Wet Lab.

WHS WetLab3

The photo above shows two different tanks housing the “Chocolate Chip Drop” study – a study focused on regeneration using the Nodular Sea Star also known as the Chocolate Chip Starfish. The tank below is the home to small crabs; notice the tank is dark. This is where another team of students is conducting a study of operant conditioning. Think Pavlov’s dog, but replace the dog with crabs and the bell with a flashlight.

WHS WetLab9

Another team experiment focused on dominant species houses two different fish types within a larger tank. Students have clearly marked the middle one-fifth of the tank as a “drop zone” for feeding. The team huddles around the tank at feeding time to observe the fish; does the larger species of fish dominate or the smaller species win out? The students’ teacher described that during the initial food drops the larger species stayed out of the feeding zone while the smaller species fed; however, over time, the larger species have migrated to and remain largely in the feeding zone, and “protect it” during the food drop.

Team Mermaids is studying aquaponics and have a complex and simple system setup for growing kale. The simple system includes only one tank and uses a floatation device to hold the plants; fish swim in the water directly beneath (see below).

WHS WetLab11

The more complex system uses two tanks, separating the plants and fish, and circulates the water from the tank with the fish into the tank with the plants. An eyeball comparison of the size of the plants suggests one system yields better opportunity for growth (i.e., bigger plants). Not surprising, Abby, Rachel, Jaclyn, Tuyet, and Clare (the student scientists on Team Mermaids) won’t fall for my simple “face validity” measurement of which aquaponic system grows the best plant; in fact, their experiment card notes, “We are also growing [kale] in pots in an environmental chamber as a control.”

How exciting it is to see students engaged in research projects that help them learn about science, collaborate as a team, and question findings and processes… and, yes, so much more. These students are using state-of-the-art equipment; they are grounding the methodology of their team projects in research literature; and they are using established measurement and validation techniques to increase the reliability of their data collection. Making waves in science education? Absolutely! And, more simply (yet more importantly), creating in these students a quest for learning.

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Read more about the curriculum in the 2013 Marine Science Academy brochure, available here.

Special thanks to Mr. Edward Bauer, Honors Biology and Marine Sciences II instructor at Booker T. Washington High School, Escambia County School District, Pensacola, Florida, for sharing the work he, his colleagues, and students are doing in the Marine Science Academy.

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