Kara Muzia, Education Outreach Specialist,
Inwater research Group, Inc.
As the end of this decade comes to a close, we take a look at all that has been accomplished here at Inwater Research Group (IRG). Ten years ago, our amazing research crew were out in full force, collecting data, providing valuable science, but there was something missing.
What was missing at IRG was a component to make our knowledge more widely available and to bring the science that we do out into the public eye. Education was missing.
This was remedied in 2014, when Rebecca Mott joined IRG as the Director of Education. Rebecca wanted a way to bring conservation to the classNameroom, to educate the next generation in a fun, interactive way. Partnering with the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, Rebecca created the “Traveling Trunks” program, a hands-on initiative to get sea turtles into the classNameroom and get students involved.
Rebecca has worked tirelessly with educators to create a fun, interactive program. The trunk offers four lessons, complete with plans for teachers that highlight the myriad of state standards that are targeted for each lesson. Some of the lessons mirror the research conducted at IRG, so students get excited and feel engaged, increasing retention and the likelihood that the conservation messages will stick with them for years to come. The programs cover topics such as nesting, beachfront lighting, population dynamics, data collection, and so much more.
The result? While students turned marine biologists bustle about their classNamerooms to catch their classNamemates turned turtles, they’re learning. They’re learning common ailments that plague sea turtles such as entanglements and boat strikes. They’re learning how to create policies that may help protect turtles, while also keeping other stakeholders, such as fishermen and boaters in mind. They’re learning as they examine a model turtle they’ve “caught.” The turtle may have a hook in its mouth. It may have encrusting epibiota, such as barnacles and algae. It may look like a perfectly healthy turtle, but when it’s weighed, the scale tells a different story. These students record their observations on a datasheet that looks strikingly similar to those that actual turtle biologists use. Students learn without even realizing it. The lessons are games to them, and at the end of the program, students understand the different types of sea turtles, their diets, where they live, and some of the major threats they face.
With testing at the forefront of most educator’s minds, the “Traveling Trunk” program strives to make the lessons not only student-friendly, but teacher-friendly as well. At the beginning of each lesson, the exact state standards that each lesson targets are listed. Teachers take comfort knowing they’re hitting their required standards while they’re teaching from the trunk.
The trunks are set up so that they’re a “lesson plan in a box.” Teachers with no background in marine education are able to borrow these trunks and still provide a high-level education to their students. The trunk contains everything they need, from supplies and materials to lesson how-tos for teachers. The best part? Thanks to partnerships and generous support, these Traveling Trunks are offered for free. Teachers are able to borrow the trunks at no charge, effectively removing all financial barriers. This ensures that all students and schools, even the most underserved communities, have access to the same high-quality education programs.
This incredible program has not gone unnoticed. This year, our Director of Education, Rebecca Mott was nominated for the “Blue Friend of the Year” Award at the annual Go Blue Awards hosted by Loggerhead Marinelife Center. This prestigious award is given to those who exemplify significant contributions in marine conservation through their work-related efforts. Rebecca was nominated for creating the amazing Traveling Trunk program, and was up against some stiff competition. The other nominees are amazing folks who exemplify what it means to bring ocean conservation to the public, including Jennifer Reilly who brings marine conservation to the deaf community via American Sign Language and Dr. Mariana Fuentes a lead turtle researcher with Florida State University. Rebecca and the Traveling Trunks won the “Blue Friend of the Year” Award! We’re beyond thrilled for her, and are immeasurably proud of the program she’s created, and the students it’s served.
During the 2018-2019 school year alone, over seven thousand students in the Martin and St. Lucie County areas experienced the magic of learning from Inwater’s Traveling Trunk Program. With raving reviews from students such as “it makes me want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!” and happy teachers who are thrilled to bring “hands-on, engaging, and thoughtful lesson plans” into their classNameroom, we’re excited to see the program grow.
IRG has partnered with other organizations across the state, including preserves, parks, and nature centers in order to bring the traveling trunk program to students all across Florida. These partnerships have allowed IRG’s programs to expand to 35 trunks offered in 17 school districts through 17 partner organizations. IRG’s marine education programs can now be found in coastal Florida counties that represent 94% of total sea turtle nesting in Florida.
As we head into the next decade, IRG is looking forward to creating new partnerships and expanding the trunk’s reach to every county in the state, including inland communities, not just those with sea turtle nesting beaches. We believe that you protect what you love, and bringing the iconic sea turtle to the classNameroom fosters a sense of responsibility in Florida’s children. By bringing this hands-on program to all students in Florida, we hope to create a sense of stewardship in the next generation, to inspire them to become advocates for the ocean and to help protect the turtles they’ve learned so much about.
Our outstanding trunk program would not be possible without the generous support of The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation. If you're interested in bringing this novel program to your classNameroom, please visit inwater.org for more information.
National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation