Fifth-grade students conduct field studies, propose ways to restore local shorelines
An invasive species of crab is threatening shorelines in Rhode Island and
Massachusetts, but the fifth graders have some very well-researched ideas about how to solve the problem. They presented their ideas recently to Victor Lerish of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, using models to demonstrate solutions ranging from soil aeration to specially designed traps. “They were all so thoughtful and committed and seemed thoroughly engaged in their approach to the problem,” reflected Lerish. “It gives me great hope in the future knowing that some of these fifth-grade ‘citizen scientists’ will one day assume the mantle of caring for our very fragile planet.” The species, known as the “green crab,” burrows into the habitat of native eelgrass, uprooting the plant. This leads to significant decay of the shoreline where green crabs are active, according to the students.
Annaliese Vander Baan, the students’ teacher, says that the idea for the project flowed from a desire among her students to “take on a real-world issue our state is facing.” When they encountered the green crabs during their weekly field investigation and saw the destruction firsthand, the class knew they had found their opportunity to do just that.
Students began by exhaustively researching the invasive creatures, and then spent two weeks pouring over data from the Center for Coastal Studies at Boston University. Using that data, students identified the locations best suited for eelgrass restoration. But, they realized, the source of the problem had to be addressed, too: how to rid our shorelines of the pesky invader.
Finding a humane solution was important for many of these students. Applying their research about green crab habits and lifecycle, students brainstormed and then designed experiments to test their ideas and
considered ways their proposals might be funded and implemented. They created working prototypes of their solutions, presented their ideas to one another, refined their designs, and, ultimately, pitched them to Lerish.
“This project took dedication and hard work,” reflected student Gianni DiGioia, “but slowly and surely, by practicing, studying, and being consistent, we pushed ourselves to success. We learned how to be better
citizens by pitching in and protecting our environment.”
The students’ next undertaking: an excursion with the Barrington Land Conservation Trust to observe and study the restoration of the endangered “colic root.” “I plan on continuing to push them during these investigations,” says Vander Baan, “challenging them to think like responsible citizens and to take care of creation.”