Marine Science Workshop

Introduction

Government schools around the village of Vembar have started a new initiative to incorporate Activity-Based Learning (ABL) and student-centered learning into the curriculum. The established syllabus, however, does not incorporate the local habitats, ecology or conservation. Subsequently, children do not learn about the vast biodiversity of marine life and understand their dependence on these resources. This creates conflicts between coastal resource managers and local residents. Therefore, a solid awareness of the importance of natural resources must be taught early in primary and secondary schools

Teachers often find it difficult to include environmental education into their curriculum because they are required to reach specific benchmarks on a weekly basis, while also teaching for local and national standardized tests which commonly focus primarily on mathematics and language. Teachers want to teach concepts like ecology, sustainability and conservation, but cannot find time to fit it in.

Children by nature love to be outside. Bringing lessons out of doors and incorporating high levels of student involvement and activity increase the desire to learn. Ecology can be taught through interactive games, which incorporate subjects taught in the syllabus such as mathematics, social science and language. This workshop will use ideas developed by the “Children’s Perception of the Environment” activity guide to introduce teachers to environmental education.

Objectives

The objective of this workshop is to train formal educators in ways to integrate local habitat concepts (marine science) into currently established curricula. Teachers will be provide with interactive hands-on lesson plans that open children’s minds to marine ecology and also tie in key concepts from the other subjects. These educators will become active participants as they are led through a series of outdoor games. Following each activity, participants will have a clear understanding of how to assimilate all four core subjects (science, language, mathematics, and social science) into these games with an environmental focus. Students from PAD’s Child Learning Center will also be exposed to marine-related activities which incorporate subjects such as local history, language, art and mathematics.

Background Information

Participants included both formal and informal educators. The informal educators included facilitators and marine biologists from PAD who work with local schoolchildren in Vembar. Formal educators included headmasters, elementary and secondary teachers, representing more than 20 schools from surrounding villages in the Gulf of Mannar.

The local environment consists primarily of coral reefs, sea grasses and coconut plantations. For generations, the dominant profession in the area has been fishing. Residents have direct linkages to natural resources and thus understand the importance of fisheries regulation. The goal is to provide activities which make students aware of the ecological connections existing to create the delicate balance of habitats and organisms upon which fish so heavily depend.

Methodology

The basic methodology is derived from an action research approach. Teachers were first briefed in marine habitats and asked to talk about their current syllabi. They were then taught hands-on activities which incorporate marine science into their established curriculum. Most of these activities included games in which the trainees were active participants. Following each activity was a discussion of ways to incorporate topics mentioned in the initial discussion of syllabus. New teaching methodologies were also introduced such as art, drama and other forms of expression which make the learning process fun.

Narrative Report of Activities

After an introduction to PAD, informing the teachers about their social work, environmental research and dive center, I began the session by explaining the importance of an interactive workshop. The teachers were asked to discuss and explain their curriculum in terms of overall themes in mathematics, language, social science and science.

The Curriculum:

Mathematics - counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, geometric shapes, metric volume, fractions, decimals, percentages.

Social Science – “our country”, “our village”, natural resources, social administration, livelihood/occupations

Language – songs, couplets, stories, conversation skills, grammar, drama, folk arts

Science – water cycle, body parts, weight, mass

Introduction to Marine Ecology

Dr. R. Balasubramanian showed a PowerPoint presentation to introduce participants to local marine habitats, biodiversity and ecology. Teachers were introduced to the coral reef, mangroves, and sea grasses in terms of organisms found and general ecological concepts. They learned about the mutualistic symbiosis between coral and zooxanthellae algae, and factors which are leading many marine species such as sea turtles to near-extinction.

Turtle Tackle Game

After the introduction to the marine environment, teachers were given an oral quiz about habitats and sea turtles found along their coast. The definition of a habitat was provided as a place were organisms can survive with the three basic factors of food, water and shelter. The game explains the importance of habitat to organism survival, and mimics limited resources within these habitats. It also introduces occurrences in nature which change the availability of these resources such as natural disasters and anthropogenic influences. The teachers were broken into groups, and three acted as recorders to keep track how many turtles “died” in each round. We played three rounds and afterwards had a discussion to show methods of incorporating addition, subtraction, fractions, percentages, poetry, stories and drama.

Closing Discussion about Conservation Day 1

The teachers expressed their concerns about integrating so many subjects into one activity, given their new activity-based learning (ABL) requirements. I explained the benefits of teaching multiple concepts with a single game, and the necessity of incorporating ecological concepts into at least one currently taught subject. Their pristine marine habitats are a rarity in the world. They were also taught about the essential need of marine habitat conservation for fisheries, livelihoods, and erosion and wave-action prevention. I explained that the next generation must have a good understanding of the interconnectedness of nature so that they can prevent overexploitation, pollution and habitat destruction.

Child Learning Center (PAD) Day 1

The students introduced themselves by stating their name and favorite animal from the sea. They responded with everything from plants to invertebrates to large marine mammals. I led a discussion about primary producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, top predators and decomposers. The older children seemed to have a good understanding of this concept and offered some examples of predator-prey relationships. We played a predator-prey game of elbow tag, which each linked pair representing shelter (safety from the predator). Following this, I asked the children their parents’ occupation. About 75% had fathers who are fishermen. I provided them with a small homework assignment to interview their elders about village life and fishing in the past versus the present.

Sediment Sediment

This game introduced trainees to the idea that sea grasses and other vegetation can trap sediments and pollution. Three recorders wrote down how many sediment particles reached the ocean to accumulate data for analysis. Following the game I led a discussion about the importance of sea grasses in trapping pollution. We discussed integration with mathematics (percentages, decimals, graphing) and creating songs and poems.

Coral Eating Madness

This game was introduced with a review of the concept of symbiosis between corals and zooxanthellae algae. Participants first played a game to teach the importance of mutualistic relationships, followed by the coral eating game in which they learned how difficult it is for corals to trap food particles. Afterwards we discussed the percentage of corals that actually caught food.

Food Web Game

This game taught educators about the complex intricacies of natural marine food webs. The discussion which followed explained how teachers can incorporate geometric shapes, body parts, food pyramids, nutritional pyramids and political pyramids.

Additional Explanation of Activities

The trainees learned about a variety of other activities which teach concepts such as the mangrove ecosystem, ecosystem services, natural resources, water conservation, as well as local and national natural history. These activities incorporate subjects such as pie charts and percentages, multiplication, volume, weight, livelihoods, maps, local and national social and economic history.

Child Learning Center (PAD) Day 2

Children were split into four groups based on age. The group with children who interviewed their elders about natural resources and village life in the past and present were assigned the task of drawing a picture of “our village” in the past and present. Another group completed the food web game then drew examples of natural marine food pyramids. One group went on a “habitat walk” around the courtyard to search for signs of life (plants and animals), then returned and drew pictures of what they saw. The fourth group went on a “waste walk” around the courtyard to collect litter, and then returned to create a public awareness poster about litter.

 

Courtney Fletcher, C.A.R.E.S.S. January 2010

Acknowledgements

People’s Action for Development (PAD)

  • Dr. N. Rajendra Prasad
  • Rekha T. H.
  • Kala
  • Dr. Sekar
  • Dr. R. Balasubramanian
  • V. M. Karunagaran
  • Florence
  • All the facilitators at PAD who participated and helped make this workshop possible

Center for Action Research on Environment Science and Society (CARESS)

  • Vineeta Hoon
  • Hemal Kanvinde