Friday, May 25 , 2018, 12:24 pm | Partly Cloudy 64º


Channel Islands Become Science Classroom for Sixth-Graders

Science teacher Danielle Bean reflects on Santa Barbara Middle School's Santa Rosa expedition

Students hike and explore the terrain of Santa Rosa Island.
Students hike and explore the terrain of Santa Rosa Island. (Santa Barbara Middle School)

Last year, I was invited on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research vessel, Shearwater, to Santa Rosa Island to experience the many research opportunities NOAA and the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary were conducting.

Upon arriving at Bechers Bay our group of educators were given a tour of the relatively new research station. It was then I learned school groups were invited to stay at the field station for multi-day island visits. Within a few months, Santa Barbara Middle School's sixth-grade class was signed up for an expedition making them the first sixth-grade group to participate in an island adventure.

Student Elizabeth Wolf discovers a sea star in an island tide pool. Click to view larger
Student Elizabeth Wolf discovers a sea star in an island tide pool. (Santa Barbara Middle School)

As their science teacher, my motivation for scheduling and leading this trip was the unique science lessons that can only be offered by this outdoor classroom.

In preparation for our expedition, students were offered background instruction from various ocean-themed genres. To help understand and celebrate the unique island biodiversity, students researched the morphological and behavioral adaptations of a species specific to the Channel Islands. Lessons on the geography of the islands and its historic cattle ranching also prepared students for the field trip.

With computers and textbooks left on the mainland, lessons took on a whole other element once we left the Island Packers’ dock in Ventura Harbor. Sea lions, seabirds and dolphins all were spotted during the crossing — the pinnacle of these being a pod of common dolphins jumping off our bow wake on the backside of Santa Cruz Island.

Students spent their first afternoon exploring the tide pools at Bechers Bay. Baby stingrays, neon-colored sea anemones, and juvenile sea hares inking were just a few of our unusual finds. More so, scientifically, we studied the reason for the extreme low tide — a “supermoon,” the extreme caliber which has not been seen in 68 years, and not to be seen again for another 18 years.

During the afternoon, students learned what it meant to be deemed a supermoon — a moon in its full phase simultaneously experiencing perigee (the closest proximity the moon will be in its elliptical orbit to the earth). This can make the moon appear 30 percent larger than a normal full moon.

Students also jumped in with both hands and feet into a sand-monitoring science lab. They systematically took core samples in the splash zone, sieving the sand to quantifiably investigate the number and types of species living in this delicate ecosystem.

Finally, students enjoyed a ranger-led hike around the immediate field station and beyond, discussing the historical and cultural significance of the many buildings still remaining from the island’s ranching days. This hike concluded with a 2-mile walk out to the once utilized island fox restoration area.

Robyn Shea, our resident ranger and guide, who worked first-hand with the island fox population, shared her personal accounts of this successful restoration.

— Danielle Bean for Santa Barbara Middle School.







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