Ocean Science From a Grade 4 Perspective
Do you remember Grade 4? Do you remember absorbing amazing amounts of fun facts and retelling them to anyone who would listen?
Mid November I gave a presentation to forty-two Grade Four students about the marine habitats that VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada explore—from the extremely hot waters of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, to shallower coastal waters.
Interacting with young students was exhilarating! I was often surprised at how much knowledge the students had prior to my presentation and how much they retained after it. While exploring the barren abyssal plains and describing how organisms adapt to the cold water, limited food and dark surroundings, the students knew right away that this would be a tough place to live.
The continental shelf however, is a region bustling with activity due to the upwelling water that brings nutrients to the surface; I think the students enjoyed this area simply for the caramels that we threw out to illustrate how the nutrients are dispersed! From that point on, the kids continually asked where else in the ocean does upwelling occur? (These kids are smart!)
Once we reached shallower habitats it became clear that more human impacts occur. While discussing the effects of low oxygen in Saanich Inlet and how bacterial mats take over the sea floor, the students began to realize just how diverse the ocean is and how precisely it needs to function. Last, but not least, the students learned about marine mammal acoustics and how important clear communication channels are for whales to echolocate. To illustrate the challenges that orcas face, several students “became” orca whales. Closing their eyes they tried to find each other with “clicking” sounds while the rest of the students gradually raised the noise level around them, disrupting their ability to communicate.
After the presentation, the students sent me a booklet containing five things they learned. Below are some of their comments:
On Hydrothermal Vents:
“I never knew there was such a thing as a hydrothermal vent. I didn’t know any place in the ocean was 450⁰C. I thought this information was good to know because I always want to learn more about the ocean and the habitats in it and the animals that thrive or struggle to live in it. The video was even more crucial to see because it actually showed you what a hydrothermal vent looked like and the animals that can live in the toxic waters around it. ”
“I learned that toxic gases are released from a hydrothermal vent and creatures gather bacteria that will eat all the toxic gasses make energy for the creature [who] provides the bacteria a home. This is important because now the world knows what can eat toxic gasses for the future generation of technology.”
On Abyssal Plains:
“I learned that lower you go down that more pressure there is. That’s important for me to know so I won’t go down too low”
“The 4th fact I learned about the ocean is that some fish live in the bottom of the ocean and even though it is really dark, they can still see through the dark without having LOTS of trouble. I wonder why they could do this while humans can’t. Do they eat millions of carrots a day?”
On the Continental Shelf:
“Today I learnt that upwelling is fun! I did not know that fish and sea creatures like upwelling.”
“I learned that Wally (the robot) was at really deep depths. I think this is important because I would have thought that anything electronic would go haywire down there”
On the Strait of Georgia:
“I learned that animals in the ocean are so desperate for food, like when they put the pig at the bottom of the ocean and a shark came to eat it. This is important to me because I will be more grateful the next time I eat food and that I did not need to go hunting for it.”
“I learned that zooplankton migrate to the surface and back every day. I thought that was neat to learn of how this affects the food chain.”
“The 3rd fact I learned about the ocean was that if one animal from the ocean food chain was endangered or extinct, it would affect the rest of the food chain. I think this is important to understand the ocean because NO ONE that I know would like to dive deep into the ocean with the chance of getting eaten by a shark and maybe even getting sucked in a whirlpool just to learn about a few food chains and how they work. I think using the internet is better than doing this”
“I learnt how hard it is for whales to communicate with all the boat noises around them”
“I never knew that a blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car. This is important to me because now I can make a picture in my head of how big the animal is”
On Saanich Inlet:
“Hypoxic zones have very little oxygen. That is important because fish need bigger gills to survive in this zone.”
“50% of our oxygen comes from the ocean. This is important because I thought all of it came from trees.”
“I never knew that fish needed oxygen. I thought that fish’s gills only brought [in] water. I didn’t know that water had oxygen in it.”
Hearing what students think about the ocean encourages and inspires me to continue doing outreach in marine science!
(Southern Resident Orca Whale Photo Courtesy of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).