Students in the sixth grade at O’Maley Middle School have caught a couple of really big fish – an endangered Atlantic sturgeon and an endangered shortnose sturgeon – right under the watchful eye of the National Marine Fisheries Service!
In fact, the students have been studying the endangered species of sturgeon using a set of interdisciplinary lessons created by the NMFS as the closing piece of their semester-long study of environmental science. Social studies classes have looked into the economic exploitation of sturgeon. Math classes have done data analysis with sturgeon statistics. Science classes have examined the sturgeons’ life cycle and adaptations, with a view to the environmental impact on the sturgeon population of river dams on their fresh water spawning behavior. The English/language arts teachers have conducted mock public hearings on fishing and the protection of threatened species, leading up to a composition written from the point of view of different interests.
This kind of interdisciplinary project based learning is the kind of work being developed at O’Maley as part of its new efforts as an Innovation School. The lessons and activities were developed by teachers and staff from NOAA’s education branch here in Gloucester and shared with teachers from across the country, including Roger Davis, science teacher from O’Maley, at a conference at the NOAA offices in November. O’Maley is one of the first schools to field test these interdisciplinary lessons, providing NOAA with valuable feedback.
Ms. Edith Carson of NOAA has been visiting all O’Maley sixth grade classes this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with two life-size models, one of an Atlantic sturgeon and the other a shortnose sturgeon, its smaller cousin. Students also explored the sturgeons’ life cycle, spawing habits, and the adaptations that made it a successful species since the Cretaceous Period, over 120 million years ago. They explored the effects of overfishing in the early 1900’s (primarily for the caviar made from sturgeon roe). The sturgeon is now a protected species, under a fishing moratorium.
The students examined preserved samples of sturgeon collected from sturgeon fish farms, explored how paleontologists draw conclusions from fossils of sturgeon scales, called scutes, and discovered how sturgeon use their sense of smell to find their way back to their native spawning grounds such as those in the Merrimack River. The students enjoyed the interaction and direct contact with these special materials and activities.
This special week will conclude Friday with a guest panel representing two sides of the difficult question of sustaining the fish population and the fishing industry into the future. Mr. Peter Ferrante, a Sicilian immigrant and longtime Gloucester fisherman, who recently retired from his work on the custodial staff of O’Maley, his job after being forced to abandon fishing due to the increasing restrictions, will represent the point of view of the traditional Gloucester fishing fleet. On the other side, Ms. Colleen Coogan, an educator and researcher on the staff of NMFS, will explain the fishing laws and regulations to the students of the sixth grade. This will be the third year for this guest panel, and while the subject can be controversial and the discussion of conservation methods lively, the program has always helped the students understand that both fisherman and regulators share the same goal, that of preserving a sustainable fishery to feed more people and provide more jobs long into the future.
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