NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 8, 2012

A natural classroom

Students learn the place-based way

With competition from smartphones, video games, unlimited texting plans and 24-hour-a- day television programming, it’s not always easy for a seventh-grade science teacher to convince kids that the study of plants and marine biology is cool.

But John Reynolds and Jess DeLacey found that on the place-based education trips they’ve been taking with their students this fall, technology can’t compete with nature.

Residents might have seen their classes around town, a line of 12- and 13-year-olds hugging the bike lanes on High Street en route to Maudslay State Park for a field expedition to study native plant and tree life. Or perhaps they were seen at Sandy Point, exploring the off-season shoreline and shallows, making observations and providing data that will eventually be used by the National Audubon Society in a much larger study of intertidal zones within the Gulf of Maine.

One recent trip even had students gliding across the still surface of Joppa Flats in their own kayaks, close enough to their unit of study — the Gulf of Maine — to reach out and touch it with their fingertips.

Reynolds described the scene as one that started with students unsure of their ability to guide their own kayak in and around the flats and ended with their complete mastery of their vessel.

And he marveled at an experience they shared on the first morning out on the crafts this year, when a curious harbor seal poked its head up between the kids’ boats, then disappeared again beneath the water’s surface. The Gulf of Maine, he said, had their complete attention. And it was cool.

“If you’re on a party boat looking at a seal, that’s one thing, but when one surfaces next to you on a kayak, that’s a different experience,” said Reynolds.

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