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Environmental Science&Policy Program | Smith College

In the classroom

The regular course

The Coral Reef Ed-Ventures curriculum focuses on coral reef ecology and conservation by engaging children in creative activities, scientific experimentation, and active exploration of the environment. The children learn that concepts such as habitat loss, pollution, biodiversity, and physiology can be expressed in many ways, even through poetry and literature. Here are some examples of themes for each day.

Beach Walk and Making Sand

Both the advanced and regular Coral Ed programs incorporated a scavenger hunt along a stretch of beach near the school. Students found objects such as snail shells, calcareous algae, coconuts, and anthropogenic debris. They then used these objects to learn about classification schemes. The students thought critically about biological hierarchy, as well as color, shape and hardness, in grouping their objects, and they also generated questions about Queen Conch shells that they found. Although many of the questions could not be answered immediately, they were rich and productive questions that could later serve as research pursuits. The children collected shells and rocks from the beach, and brought them back to the classroom. They placed them into covered tin cans, and then took turns shaking the cans while dancing to music. As the shells fragmented, the students created sand! As part of a larger lesson, this activity taught the children how the sand composing their island is formed. Students then broke up into groups and discussed the characteristics of the three sources of the island’s sand: calcareous algae (Halimeda), corals, and shells.


The Coral Ed teachers introduced children to various poetic forms and engaged them in poetry writing related to marine science concepts. For example, children wrote poems about the food web and how energy is transferred. Children’s conceptual understanding was represented in their creative writing.

Some children even shared their poetry and stories in front of the whole class.

A Wonderful Creature
by Konrad Gonzalez

T he turtle is a wonderful creature
U nknown in some places and here our teacher
R ests in places that are very vast
T urtles even swim very fast
L et them be safe and free
E nd of my poem then how happy they will be.

Eaten by A...
by Angel Navidad

C autiously a phytoplankton was collecting energy from the sun.
O n a nearby place there was a coral which caught the phytoplankton and ate it.
R apidly a parrotfish extended his mouth and gobbled the coral.
A n exotic barracuda snatched the parrotfish in less than a min.
L ast but not least, a shark grabbed the barracuda with a mighty force.

Environmental Ethics

In a new activity this year, the teachers wrote a short story addressing the issue of biocentrism. In the story, two children argue about whether the life of a hermit crab is important. After reading the story, small groups of 10- to 12-year olds generated questions and observations based on the ethical problems raised in the story. These included:
- "Why don't people care about crabs or other animals?"
- "I think the hermit crab is important. Why?"
- "She [a child in the story] is selfish. She does not think of others, if it is a person, bug, or an animal, so she should treat others like herself."

Building on student questions, the teachers facilitated small group discussions about ethics. The children demonstrated great respect for the importance of the food chain and the ecosystem. The idea that life has intrinsic value continually resurfaced during the discussion. The students asserted that the greater knowledge a person has about an organism and its ecosystem, the more likely it is that that person will protect the natural world.

Community Involvement

Each year a variety of community members are asked to come in and speak to the children. This year, three citizens from the community were invited to speak to the children. Daniel Nuñez, an environmentally oriented tour company owner, and two Hol Chan Marine Reserve rangers gave presentations and answered questions about their careers. Student questions such as "Why can't you fish at Hol Chan?" and "What do you have to study to become a ranger?" prompted discussions about the opportunities and importance of conservation-related careers within their local community.

Collaboration with the Hol Chan Marine Reserve office became much stronger this year, thanks to the help of Nikki Vasak, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, and Mariella Archer, the Hol Chan Education Coordinator. The two women taught with the Smith College student teachers every day, further enriching the program and strengthening the link to the local community in San Pedro.

The Advanced Course

In Summer 2006, the Coral Ed team developed a pilot program for students 11-years old and above who had completed the Coral Ed program in previous years. The topics were similar to those offered in the regular program but engaged the children in more complex and sophisticated thinking. The students participated in Coral Jeopardy and created an illustrated book on reef environments. They debated mangrove conservation issues; students played the roles of a hotel developer who wished to build on a mangrove habitat and the opposing Hol Chan Marine Reserve staff members who sought to protect it. Students debated passionately, and their views reflected their understanding of the importance of tourism and the preservation of mangrove habitats to local wage earners and to the health of the reef ecosystem.

Teacher Workshop

The Coral Ed-Ventures team conducts a full-day workshop for the teachers of the local schools on the island. The majority of attending teachers are from the San Pedro R.C. Elementary School, the local public school on Ambergris Caye. The purpose of the workshop is aligned with the Belize Ministry of Education’s professional development goals for teachers: to integrate inquiry-based teaching and creative learning skills into the curriculum. This workshop takes these goals and through a series of lectures, discussions, and activities works to incorporate marine science inquiry-based learning into the curriculum.

Taking a beach walk initiates activities focused on learning how to use items found along the beach as themes for in class teaching.

The Coral Ed team helps the teachers develop lessons that can be adapted for different learning styles, age groups, and subject areas. The workshop focuses on topics such as geology and ecology of the reef, threats to the reef, and the need for local conservation measures.

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