Marine Mammal Lessons at Mary Collins School Weave a Story of Learning

Posted by Pamela Van Halsema on November 10, 2011 5:11 PM

A memorable storyline brings learning to life in Gena Richman and Liza Eichert's classrooms at Mary Collins Elementary School in Petaluma. This semester mentor teachers Richman and Eichert have worked with SSU Multiple Subject Credential Program student teachers Kelly Simonis, Carlyn Kerney, Diana Long and Laurel Angeli as they encouraged their second and third grade children to use their imagination and employ problem solving skills while learning about marine mammals. The lessons were based on the Scottish Storyline method, which integrates curriculum in a narrative created by teacher and students in collaboration. The teacher poses questions that begin the process, and the kids create the setting, the characters, and investigate and solve problems that might occur. Through the context of the story, children learn lessons and develop skills in reading, writing, mathematics, social studies and science.

trixie.jpgThe learning unit included a field trip to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. In preparation for the field trip, Richman's students started by creating a freize, or classroom mural, depicting the Marin Coastline, teaming with ocean life, and the nearby Marine Mammal Center ready to help rescue injured or sick animals. Then the students each created their own imagined story character that would work at the facility, and researched and wrote a biographical narrative about why that person works there and what their duties entailed.  Characters included Trixie, who takes X-rays, Blossom, the veterinarian and John, the security guard. On the field trip the children got to meet the people that work there, see some of the animals, and learn about the need to protect wildlife and reduce pollution in our oceans.

otter.jpgAfter the field trip, Eichert's class was motivated to support the Center's work and raise money to "Adopt a Seal." The children decided to hold a bake sale to raise the funds, and student teachers helped facilitate the project. Kids needed to use math skills to determine how to set their pricing, figure out how much they needed to sell in order to raise enough to meet their goal. The children wrote letters to the other classes in the school to announce their project and advertise their sale. They made apple juice and zucchini muffins harvested from their school garden to sell. In the end they managed to raise enough money to adopt two seals, named Garnett and Calloway.

Another student teacher-collaborative project in Richman's classroom was a letter writing campaign for the Friends of the Otters, and another was a homework project inspired by the art project called Washed Ashore, in which children created sea creature sculptures out of trash and recycled materials, to bring awareness to the problem of trash destroying ocean life. Creations included assemblages that looked like sea turtles, lobsters, dolphins and more. One of the classes followed up by writing letters to the Mayor and City Council of Petaluma, urging them to take steps to reduce plastics pollution that can harm oceanlife.

In designing these lessons, teachers hope to not only offer kids the chance to master basic skills like reading and writing, but also to encourage creativity, problem solving, teamwork and civic responsibility through a lasting, memorable learning experience. For more information visit Multiple Subject Credential Program at Sonoma State University.