What’s in a Lesson?
Rebecca Mott
Education Programs Coordinator
Inwater Research Group, Inc.
Over the years, the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation has supported all-inclusive traveling trunk programs created by us at Inwater Research Group. The programs are hands-on, engaging, effective and include all the items teachers need to run the lessons for free. These trunk programs book to capacity each school year in our local school districts. So, what is it that makes these programs so popular and effective? Well, there are a lot of factors to consider. You have to think about teacher needs and restrictions as well as student engagement and learning styles. Not to mention all the minutia in between. Here’s a look at what goes into a lesson plan…..
All of the materials required for the hands-on activities are provided in multiple sets so teachers can open the Turtle Trunk “kit” and go from there with no need to provide extra supplies. Teacher training classes are offered regularly.
Bridging the Gap

When we begin a new lesson, we must think first of the overall message we want to convey. Is it how marine debris impacts sea turtles?
Is it how biologists study sea turtles? Is it how people can help aid in sea turtle conservation? We have to first think of the take-home message before we start building the infrastructure. From here, we have to figure out what state educational standards we’d like to utilize to tell the story. This helps us bridge the gap between what we’re teaching and making it a valid tool for the classroom.

For example, when we began developing our Darker Skies, Darker Beaches program, which centers on the impacts bad lighting can have on sea turtle nesting, we had to find this bridge. For us, it was the many state standards that discuss forms of energy, electricity, building a circuit, and the electromagnetic spectrum. This was the perfect bridge for us to tie in our message to their required curriculum. By focusing on this, teachers are exponentially more likely to teach our lessons as they help bolster what the kids are required to learn already, making the students more successful during testing.

Classroom Management

When developing a curriculum, we must keep in mind what teachers have to work with. How many of each item should we place in the trunks? Will the items be re-used or consumable (and thus add extra cost for us to supply)? We also have to have a general understanding of the ever-changing classroom. Will the students have access to individual computers or will they have to share? We have to also consider the level of engagement during the entire lesson. If you have an activity where some of the students are sitting idle, waiting their turn while others are carrying out an activity, it generally won’t work. Students must be engaged totally during the lesson so their interest level remains high.

Teaching Science-based Practices

When we develop lessons, we base them on real science carried out by real marine biologists. We want students to have the most realistic experience possible but we have to
sea turtle friendly light fixture
Students break into groups to create their own ‘sea turtle friendly’ light fixture out of an assortment of materials. They must work together to design, test, and improve upon their product while considering implications like cost, durability, and safety.
find a way to tailor esoteric research practices to curricula designed for students who are oftentimes in 3-8th grade. In addition, we have to be able to give the teachers all the resources they need to be able to teach such specific topics. For example, in order to teach about extrapolating data, we introduce it in a way that is both relevant to students and easy for teachers to teach. Students will be asked to count the number of students in the class with brown hair. Then blonde hair. We then take those numbers and have them estimate how many students in the 3rd grade may have these hair colors by multiplying their class numbers by the amount of classes in this grade level. While it will not be extremely accurate, we’ve just explained data extrapolation while teaching both science and math.

Student Engagement

Most importantly, we have to think of how engaged the students will be when carrying out these lessons. If the answer is “not very much”, then everything that is created, no matter how important, will fall on deaf ears. Thinking like a 3rd grader often comes in handy at this point. For many of our lessons, we find things that excite students and use those things to teach our lessons. We utilize things like the Engineering Design Process where students break into groups to develop their own sea turtle-friendly light fixture. They must use certain items like tissue paper and aluminum foil while following a budget. They must then test these light fixtures by illuminating their bulbs to see if they’re effective. From here, they must re-design their prototypes to be even better. While it may sound simple, students are self-driven, have group conversations about what the best practice is based on what they know, and have an end goal to work toward. At the end of the lesson, students have
a great understanding of what makes a sea turtle-friendly light as well as how to see from the perspectives of biologist, homeowner, engineer, and sea turtle. By cultivating multiple stakeholderships like this, students are more likely to be invested in helping sea turtles in the future as well as equipped with ways to help.

Mike Bressette, Kelly Flanagan, Rebecca Mott, Barbara Buckbee, Jonathan Gorham, Wayne Kurian
The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation is proud to support these quality programs. L-R Mike Bressette, Kelly Flanagan, Rebecca Mott, Barbara Buckbee, Jonathan Gorham, and Wayne Kurian.
There are a great number of things that go into creating a successful classroom lesson and this article has just scratched the surface. First, we figure out our take home message and define a way to present the topic using state education standards. Next, we must consider the students’ engagement level to ensure they will be excited to participate and thus more likely to retain the information. Lastly, it must be easy to teach so teachers have a way to convey obscure research practices to their students while covering state standards. Once you’ve aligned these three tenets of curriculum writing, you have a great base from which to create your masterpiece.
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