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EBV Takes IB Science to the Sea
By Tomo Nishizawa & Rafael Quintero 14-Jan-15
In the science classroom at Escuela Bella Vista (EBV) in Maracaibo, Venezuela, pictures of students hang on a wall. Each represents a group of students that have been on the Curaçao field trip, an interdisciplinary marine biology/chemistry trip to the Dutch Island in the Caribbean. Middle school students who enter the classroom for the first time in September look at the pictures and exclaim joy at having spotted their brother, sister, or cousin in one of the photos and begin to look forward to their own trip several years down the road. The Curaçao trip is a highlight of many students’ high school experience, representing a small piece of the school’s 65-year history. The six-day field trip is packed with activities: from an introductory diving lesson at a sandy beach and a visit to the water desalination plant to a lecture on dolphin research at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. Of the many experiences, the trip is focused on visits to the mangrove, sea grass, coral reef, and sandy beach ecosystems that EBV students have studied by since 2005. Here, the juniors engage in water chemical analysis and fish identification, giving them a hands-on experience of field data collection. The data they collect is then added to the school science database, which is used by following year’s cohort to analyze long-term trends. This data has allowed students to track subtle trends in water pH levels or temperature changes across various ecosystems over time. When snorkeling to sample water or identify fish, students are directly engaged with “real-life” environmental issues. The lionfish, for example, is a venomous invasive species from the Indo-Pacific that recently invaded the Caribbean. While students study basic ecological principles prior to the trip, it is an entirely new experience to see the marine biologist guide hunt for lionfish in the water with a spear, or to see bleached corals lying on the beach due to ocean acidification. In this way, the experience in Curaçao prompts students to think about complex emerging problems, which it challenges them to solve. At the beginning of the school year, chemistry students are often hesitant to learn about ecology, and biology students are likewise reluctant to learn to manipulate chemical probes. During the trip, however, both groups must work together on their International Baccalaureate research projects, supplementing one another’s knowledge. The students begin to collaborate well when they encounter marine scientists from the Sea Aquarium, with knowledge of not only biology and chemistry, but with an integrated view of multiple scientific disciplines, including a capacity to share that knowledge with the public. In Venezuela, where recent political disruptions have left some students emotionally scarred, trips such as these on which students feel safe and have the chance to forge strong bonds represent essential learning environments.
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