Bay Ecosystem: Seventh Graders Explore Biodiversity at Pickering

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There are over 3,600 species of plants and animals found in the Chesapeake Bay, from tiny grass shrimp to great blue herons, from cattails to towering tulip poplars. Many of these can be found easily in Talbot County, as seventh graders at Pickering Creek are discovering during a day of active exploration.

A St. Michaels Middle School student holds up the pumpkinseed fish he caught while fishing in Pickering Creek.

This May and June Pickering Creek Audubon Center hosted Talbot County seventh graders as they explored local biodiversity. Described by one student as “the study of the complexity and diversity of living things,” biodiversity is a theme students have focused on in school. An in-school lesson led by Pickering educators earlier in the year included explorations on taxonomy, or how organisms are classified. Students made observations on different physical features and adaptations of plants and animals, thinking about how a biodiverse ecosystem includes species with hundreds of different adaptations.

During their field experience at Pickering Creek students get a taste of biodiversity “in action,” and discover for themselves which species are found locally. Each activity students complete—fishing on the dock, hiking the trails with binoculars, pulling seine nets through the creek—is designed to bring them into contact with a new group of organisms. The species list—student generated proof of local biodiversity—grows as each group adds their new finds to it.

Biodiversity is an important concept in the Bay, as in all ecosystems. During their field trip students consider the advantages of high species diversity, such as a greater number of natural resources (like food) being available for humans and other animals. Students learn that the more biodiversity in an ecosystem, the better that ecosystem can withstand change or disaster.

Leading seventh grade trips focused on biodiversity has multiple benefits: students build significantly on their knowledge of ecology, but also get the chance to explore and experience nature in an active way. Activities such as searching the forest for insects and seining in the creek are loved by students for this reason. In the forest students spread out to hunt for worms, insects, toads, and other small critters. The experience is new for many of them, and they find the freedom to explore and catch things exciting. “I can catch that toad? Really?” asks one student. Similarly, seining in the creek is a chance for students to find something new, unexpected, or often unnoticed. “That was really fun,” another student added after reluctantly leaving the creek and pulling off waders.

“I just like any kind of hands-on activity,” said Easton Middle School teacher Anna Brohawn of the field trip. “Any kind of hands-on activity to make a connection, the students love. Some kids need to go to their laptops. But I want them to make connections outside the box, on their own.”

At the conclusion of each field trip students review their species totals. Students have found as many as 51 animal species in a single afternoon—proof of not only local biodiversity, but of the students’ engagement and persistence in finding that biodiversity.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center sees Eastern Shore students of all grade levels for hands on, standards-aligned environmental education programs in both classroom and field-based experiences. Educators and schools interested in developing a program for their students should contact the Center at 410-822-4903 to begin planning for the 2017-18 school year.

For more information: Mark Scallion 410-822-4903 mscallion@audubon.org

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