Billion Oyster Project Club @ Parkside Preparatory Academy

Esther Ekpin, Middle School science teacher

This is a story from our Ocean Challenge partner Billion Oyster Project. Your participation in the Ocean Challenge has helped to support their work!

This year, I joined Billion Oyster Project, hoping to both extend my science curriculum beyond the classroom and also integrate the real-world, local issues of NYC’s water quality, species preservation and aquatic health with the ecology and human impact aspects of the curriculum. BOP is one of few programs that allow students at the middle-level to confront such issues head-on as citizen scientists, data collectors and analyzers, and I was elated to find out that BOP is eager to welcome schools to partner with them.

My experience with facilitating the PPA BOP club has been immensely rewarding. Our young scientists are more than engaged; they are invested. They understand the implications of having a functionally extinct oyster population as they make in-person, qualitative observations about various waterways around the city. They ask questions about “why” and “how” various factors might affect oyster viability and growth and brainstorm ways to alleviate these issues.

At our monthly Oyster Research Station (ORS) visits, students collect data as they walk along the canal, commenting about the color and smell of the water and wondering aloud if this might affect their oysters. Their curiosity further extends to the other inhabitants of the Gowanas Canal, where our ORS is located, wondering what positive or negative impacts those organisms may have on the oysters. We had the honor of working with Agata Poniatowski of BOP and when she visited, my students met her with a torrent of questions! Having the support of the BOP staff in this way makes ORS visits special for students and provides additional support for ‘learning educators’ like myself.

The students are so invested in and concerned about the oyster growth that they recommended that I sign up for the classroom oyster tank workshop! And so I went – off to do my scientists’ bidding. As a result, my scientists have set up the classroom tank: they’ve calculated the tablespoons of salt necessary to achieve 15ppt salinity, developed their own way of determining the number of gallons of water in the tanks (building on their 6th grade mathematical understandings of unit rate), used that information to determine how many drops of bacteria and algae are needed in the tank, decided how frequently to feed their oysters and what data they will record. They’ve taken over! Dr. Powe, the scientist who works with my students and I watch over their work, and it is truly amazing to see the difference in students’ responses to this experience compared to the traditional science education. Students self-assess, peer-assess and engage in scientific discourse, naturally. In fact, in today’s meeting, students had a sober lesson in the importance of preserving data. There were two pieces of data that were missing and the students, instead of focusing on the problem, developed solutions to ensure that data would be preserved in the future. I am ever grateful and honored to be able to see this level of maturity, responsibility, ownership and excitement in our students.