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Coral Reef Survival a Statistics Lesson for Crane Students

Teacher used Galapagos study to create classroom project

Crane Country Day School students work on coral reef project.
Crane Country Day School students work on coral reef project. (Crane Country Day School)

Peter Glynn, Crane Country Day School’s Lower School math specialist, loves finding experiential methods of teaching math to his students.

“I like to start a unit with a hands-on project that builds our classroom culture of teamwork and curiosity, and to show students the relevance of mathematical solutions to solving interesting and relevant problems that affect us all,” he said.

One of this year’s student projects joined statistics and other mathematical concepts with Glynn’s personal interest in coral reef research.

Last summer, Glynn traveled to Honolulu with his father, a coral reef researcher of 50 years, to attend the Coral Reef Symposium and presented a study on the future survival of the one remaining structural coral reef in the Galapagos Islands.

Glynn’s contribution to the study was the development of a computer simulation that enabled researchers to forecast the state of the Galapagos reef into the future.

Back in the classroom, Glynn used his experiences as a springboard for learning opportunities with his fifth-grade math students; beginning a unit on statistics became a perfect opportunity to unite science and math concepts.

Glynn began the unit by discussing the biology of coral reefs, as well as the effects El Niño events have on reefs in the Eastern Pacific.

He taught his students that these events raise seawater temperatures above normal, which stresses reefs and results in high levels of bleaching and subsequent erosion from sea urchins feeding on the bleached corals.

He illustrated these facts with statistical evidence, research the students would further utilize during the unit.

With these facts in hand, students were tasked with creating large models of reefs to demonstrate how random research sampling is collected, and how statistical analysis on the data is produced. Students cut pictures of corals out and, using clay and toothpicks, created sea urchins.

Then, students created a nine-square-meter grid on the Crane basketball courts. Using dice and cards as randomization tools, students placed corals and sea urchins within the grid.

Then, using the scientific data on coral growth and the effects of erosion caused by urchins, the students calculated if their simulated reef would survive an El Niño event.

“Providing students with opportunities to learn through experience is fundamental to instruction across all disciplines at our school. Experiential learning deepens understanding and establishes a long-lasting, joyful memory of lessons learned,” Glynn said.

Crane Country Day School is a K-8 independent school dedicated to experiential education. For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Erin Guerra, director of admission, 969-7732 ext. 106.

— Mary Lee Wren for Crane Country Day School.


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