08 July 2009

Dolphins in Greece and whales in Maine

What do dolphins in Greece have to do with whales in Maine? We wanted to know so we went to Greece to find out! As teachers in Expeditionary Learning schools, we qualified to apply for a grant from Fund for Teachers and received a fellowship to work with Earthwatch Institute.

For 10 days last Summer we worked with Tethys Research Institute as volunteers on the Dolphins of Greece expedition.
We learned so much about dolphins and how they are identified and even got to know some of them by name. We found out what marine mammals need in order to survive and what conservation efforts exist or are being proposed in order to protect them. We learned about the methods scientists use to observe and record data in the field and turn that data into long term studies that demonstrate how people play a vital role in the survival of species. We also learned that all species are equally fascinating and equally important and that they are all interconnected. All species are threatened by pollution, loss of habitat and over fishing; and all species play a vital role in the delicate balance of nature.

As teachers we needed to take all that we had learned and transform it into an expedition for children that focused on the relevant content and skills they needed to learn at their grade level. And, as teachers of English as a second language, we needed to find a way to present information and concepts in a comprehensible manner. In addition to learning lots of information about individual species and forces at work within the ocean ecosystem, we wanted students to develop a spirit of curiosity and adventure. We wrote grants to buy materials and pay for field experiences. We went to teacher workshops and developed relationships with local experts. We met with other school personnel to get feedback and refine our plans. We named our expedition: The Sea and Me and began in the spring of ’09. Our guiding questions were: 1- Why should people care about the oceans? 2- Who lives in Casco Bay, Maine? Finally, 3- Is the Casco Bay ecosystem endangered?

With the students, we conducted experiments, watched You Tube videos, observed plankton, and took many trips to the shore to observe and record data. Through an L.L. Bean grant we were able to take our 2 classes on a 5 hour whale watch 20 miles out from Portland Harbor. Even though the trip was long and arduous (including lots of throwing up) everyone loved it! For days afterward students came to school asking when we were going in the boat again.

We developed a list of plants and animals that live here in Maine’s coastal waters and began researching their characteristics, place in the food web and threats to their survival. We looked at local sources of pollution and other threats to the animals such as overfishing and gear entanglement and read about laws created to protect them. We worked with local artists, authors and experts in the field. After researching and learning to care about the animals, the students created a final product in order to share what they had learned with others. The Middle School students created a book containing vital information about each species. The first and second grade class created a board game that illustrates the connections between plants, animals and people.

Our culminating event was a presentation of the final products to other classes of students at the East End Community School. In all, we created 10 sets of books and games to distribute. Teachers were impressed by the advanced vocabulary students used to explain complicated concepts. We were impressed by their excitement to learn, the bonding that developed between the two groups of students and their collaboration in this endeavor, and by their deeper understanding of the importance of preserving the ocean ecosystem and all that lives in it and depends on it.

Amy and Marcia, USA


In August 2008 Amy and Marcia participated as volunteers in the Dolphins of Greece expedition. From the first instant of their arrival they were eager to learn and to gather as much information as possible to take back with them to their classrooms. What they have managed to accomplish with their students is impressive and should be an example to be followed by many. Well done girls!

Joan Gonzalvo

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