An O-"Fish"-Ial Research Project: Students Develop Reading, Writing, Research, and Presentation Skills in This Creative Study of Local Marine Life
Newman, James, Krustchinsky, Rick, Vanek, Karen, Nguyen, Kim-Thoa, Science and Children
I love fishing and often share stories of my marine adventures with my third-grade students. They are always an appreciative audience, peppering me with questions about fish, their diets and habitats, and even what they look like on the inside. So, after reading an interesting article about marine life in the Gulf of Mexico (see References), I was inspired to develop a hands-on research lesson in which students explored our local (Galveston Bay, Texas) sea life in a creative way. The idea was simple: Have students use multiple resources to research several fish species, write a research paper and develop a PowerPoint presentation to communicate the findings, allow students to actually examine these species up close with samples from the local fish market, and then conclude the project with a celebratory fish-tasting party. Check for seafood allergies and receive permission from the school administration and parents before conducting this project with students.
I was confident this research project would "go down easy" when students used technology and observed animals from their own backyard. Best of all, students would not only be learning about habitats, ecosystems, and food chains but also be incorporating the science-process skills of observing, classifying, communicating, inferring, predicting, and measuring into this inviting "menu" of inquiry learning. There was nothing left to do but begin!
Before beginning the adventure with students, some preparation was necessary. First, I chose the following seven locally common species for the class study: brown shrimp, blue crab, squid, southern flounder, red drum, spotted sea trout, and eastern oyster. Then, I designed a student-friendly data collection sheet for each sea animal that students could use to structure their data collection (Figure 1). To ensure that students accessed appropriate, precise information about each of the species in the maze of reference resources available via books, media, and the internet, we (the classroom teacher and a preservice teacher from a local university) created a PowerPoint slideshow about the selected species that contained hot buttons and direct links to pictures, videos, and accurate articles about each kind of fish (see NSTA Connection). Using this PowerPoint, students could click on a link and quickly arrive at their research destination or website. There they would be able to view a targeted film clip or other interactive media, making the trip to the internet distraction free and conserving the students' time.
Once these preparations were complete, it was time to "cast the net" to capture student interest in the research project.
To engage students, I followed Suchman's inquiry model (as cited in Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun 2004), which draws students into the process of inquiry through attention-grabbing scenarios. In this process, students "solve" a concept-related phenomena through asking only "yes" or "no" questions. For example, I began the discussion by presenting the following scenario and question to the students: "Scientists have discovered beaks of giant squid lying in piles on the floor of the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. How did they get there?" The students responded by asking questions that could only be answered with a "yes" or "no." One student asked, "Did a person put them there?" The answer was "no." "Did an animal have anything to do with the beaks being there?" another student questioned. "Yes, an animal was involved." The probing continued until the students were able to infer the reasoning behind this phenomenon. These piles of beaks are a result of giant squid being eaten by sperm whales and the sperm whales' inability to digest the durable, enamel-covered beaks. Eventually, the whales die and sink to the sea floor. The squid beaks, retained in the stomachs of the sperm whales, remain intact in neat piles long after the deceased whale has decomposed. …