Floating Classrooms: First of 2011 Schools Gets Underway

In May, we'll have them answer the same set of questions. That will help us assess the success of Floating Classrooms, which is an in-school marine education program that IFAW helped develop in partnership with Dominica's government.

Here's a sampling of what I asked a group of fifth graders this afternoon in a small coastal town north of Dominica's capital city:

"Does the ocean give us air to breathe?" "Do animals eat plastic?" "Does plastic go away?" "What do you eat that comes from the ocean?"

In May, we'll have them answer the same set of questions. That will help us assess the success of Floating Classrooms, which is an in-school marine education program that IFAW helped develop in partnership with Dominica's government.

Then, after the pencil-and-paper part was taken care of, the teacher asked the class to file outside silently and gather in the school yard. There, in a field next to a basketball backboard, Terry Raymond, from Dominica's Ministry of Youth, helped inflate a giant near-life-sized humpback whale. Pretty soon, that backboard looked puny by comparison.

In no time, students from the rest of the grades spilled out of their classrooms into the courtyard, grinning widely.

"Never in my life!" said one of the youngest, his eyes looking up at the whale easily four times his height. His entire body was just barely as big as the humpback's flipper.

As impressed and delighted as that little boy and his fellow students were to see that whale spring to life in front of their school, I was even more thrilled to witness Floating Classrooms 2011 officially get underway.

This school, called Massacre Canefield Primary School, is the first of a half dozen schools we're adding to the list since we launched a newly revamped version of the program this time last year -- bringing the total to 8 fifth grades across the island.

While I wish I could take credit, Floating Classrooms represents a model of a cooperative effort. With direction from the Ministry of Education as well as Mr. Raymond and a handful of primary school principals and teachers, we got some terrific guidance on how to tweak and revise last year's teachers' guide to make it correspond as precisely as possible to Dominica's curriculum standards.

Kara Mahoney Robinson, a New England Aquarium education program coordinator, is one of at least eight who have spent countless hours incorporating this feedback from last year, adding new lesson ideas, and pouring over Dominica's education requirements to make sure the teachers' guide provides activities that fit with a classroom's level and learning outcomes. And Kara played a key role on Tuesday, when we spent the day with the first group 2011 Floating Classrooms teachers. We plan a second teacher training early next week.

Today, dwarfed by the humpback behind her, Kara kept several dozen students spellbound showing pictures of whales and dolphins from a reference book. After she answered their outpouring of questions, we deflated the whale, packed him up and headed up.

One school down: At Massacre Canefield Primary School, the pump has been primed. Now, the real lifeblood of this program, the teachers, take the reins. It's the teachers who truly own Floating Classrooms. They are the ones who take our 185-page teachers' guide and convert it into a three-dimensional, inspirational and engaging experience for nine- and ten-year-old Dominicans.

And as the teachers proceed with Floating Classrooms over the coming weeks, I have a feeling plenty more primary school children at Massacre Canefield and elsewhere on the island will echo that one small boy's refrain: "Never in my life!"

-- KMR

For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare efforts to help protect whales around the world visit www.ifaw.org

Comments: 2

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

[...] The school’s principal was also thrilled, and told me that they wholeheartedly support the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Floating Classroom program. [...]

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

[...] I was there to help kick off our Disney: Project Green funded Floating Classroom program along with our partners in the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSeTCO). We’d been asked by the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) to lead a presentation about our Caribbean-focused Floating Classroom program. [...]

Post a comment