Florida Keys teacher connects NOAA science with students and beyond

By Martha Loizeaux

September 2019

martha loizeaux
Martha Loizeaux poses with the drifter buoy that she deployed while participating in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. Photo: NOAA

As my students and I sit in a circle on the last day of school, reflecting on the year, I’m always excited and interested to hear some of their favorite memories. From “snorkeling with sharks” to “meeting a new friend” to “that day I had cheese puffs in my lunch box,” you never know what you’re going to hear! This year, however, was a particularly special reflection afternoon with my 3rd grade science students.

I am fortunate enough to be the marine science teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School, a “place-based” charter elementary school with a marine science focus in the Florida Keys. My responsibilities include the coordination of our field lab program, which includes weekly field trips to some of the incredible habitats and ecosystems of our island community. When we have the opportunity to reflect on the year, students take the time to think about our experiences in the field and how they connect to the real world.

This past year, I attended the NOAA Teacher at Sea program in the Northeast Atlantic, shadowing scientists conducting ecosystem monitoring through plankton and water quality analysis. I was able to bring these concepts home to my students, thanks to the NOAA Ocean Guardian School program. Through this recognition program, my students and I took the concepts that I learned on board the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter and applied them at home through our own version of ecosystem monitoring. Third grade students designed seagrass and mangrove growth experiments and monitoring programs, implemented them during our field labs, and presented their results to scientists and park manager partners through the assistance of the Ocean Guardian School program.

students gathered for a photo
Ocean Studies Charter School 3rd graders celebrate their day of six public presentations with a tour of the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West along with Marlies Tumolo of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Martha Loizeaux

Our project began with students learning more about what NOAA scientists are doing to monitor ocean ecosystems in the real world. These concepts were taught through the connection with my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. Students then analyzed their own surrounding ecosystems to determine an appropriate method of monitoring a vital habitat in our own backyard: seagrass.

[Seagrass] supports a diversity of life and can form extensive beds in shallow, protected, estuarine, or nearshore environments. – NOAA Fisheries

Students learned through guest speakers and field labs what local scientists do to monitor and transplant seagrass. They designed their own version of this monitoring system and began a monitoring program in partnership with a local sailing club. They also designed their own experiments to determine the success of uprooted seagrass fragments after transplantation. This information could help scientists transplant seagrass after a significant event such as a hurricane. Finally, students presented their findings at several Florida State Parks and the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

“My favorite memory was when we did our presentations for all of the scientists at the Eco-Discovery Center,” one of my students shared. “I felt nervous at first, but then I realized that I knew the answers to all of their questions!” One important advantage to the incorporation of our NOAA Ocean Guardian School project into our curriculum is that students have the opportunity to feel the effects and impact of their hard work in the real world.

Martha Loizeaux is a teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida.