Island Updates

Putting the pieces together

Guest blog post by Science Educator Robin Chernow

Sometimes, for Hurricane Island programs to occur, lots of little magical pieces need to come together. This is an idea that Phoebe, our Director of Marketing and Outreach, has expressed several times this season. Sometimes that “magic” is serendipitous, but most of the time it is the result of collaboration, open-mindedness, and hard work.

For Northeast High’s recent visit, the magic happened. For the third year in a row, a new group of students came all the way from Philadelphia, PA, for a five night program. Fellow Science Educator, Josh, and I had the pleasure of working with the twenty students and three teachers who made their way to Hurricane Island for a week of field science research projects.

The magic started with their introduction to Hurricane. Three years ago, a Northeast High (NEHS) teacher won a raffle to attend the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference. At that conference, she met Hurricane Island staff members and learned about the science programming offered on the island. It seemed like a great fit for her senior International Baccalaureate (IB) students, and the partnership was born! Coincidentally, I also found out about Hurricane Island at a NSTA conference, last year when I was living in Philadelphia. It seemed fitting that both the NEHS group and I are from Philadelphia AND found out about Hurricane via the same conference.

Little green crab in the quadrat

After finding out about Hurricane, NEHS students and their teacher raised money to cover expenses, including programming and lodging on the island, plus their transportation from Pennsylvania. Their hard work fund-raising, from gofundme pages to candy sales, was a crucial step in making the trip possible. 

Then it was a matter of getting them here. A lot of our students come from schools within Maine or nearby New England states so when our participants make the trek from several states away, the program feels all the more special. The NEHS students arrived at school on a Sunday morning, earlier than the time they would arrive on a regular school day. They were on the road by 7 am, embarking on their 9 hour bus ride from Philadelphia to Rockland, Maine. Making it to Rockland by 4 pm was a feat in and of itself, but the last leg of the journey, a 50 minute chartered boat ride, was the most impressive. Some of the students had never been on a boat and had considered not participating in the trip because they were nervous about the boat ride. Fortunately, the students faced their fears (and were relieved to step onto the solid granite ground of the island).

On Monday, the NEHS students had other opportunities to face fears on a night hike - without headlamps. Josh led the hike and expressed that he loves night hikes because it is rare to experience full darkness, especially when you live in a city. Our students could relate, and even though some were nervous, they were wowed by the stars, their trust in each other, and their ability to see more than they expected (thanks to rhodopsin!). We walked away from the night hike recognizing that we had just experienced something special.

Rainy day plankton tow

Monday and Tuesday included numerous other mini adventures. Before students selected their own research questions to investigate, we spent a couple days exploring the island and finding topics of interest. One of our overview sessions was at the ice pond, where students made observations and took freshwater samples for testing. We also looked (briefly) in the microscope and managed to identify several macroinvertebrates, from annelids to insect larvae! Cool!

Tuesday also included a lobstering session with Oakley. He showed off his lobster traps, teaching about lobster anatomy and life cycles, in addition to discussing the lobster industry. Several students relished the opportunity to hold a crustacean for the first time. Via our chef Eric, we learned the lesson that you can only eat what you catch, so we teamed up to share lobsters for dinner.

Sit spots were another special component of the week. One student appreciated that ““Sit spots were very quiet and made me feel at peace.”  Sit spot is a time when we go outside and all sit independently, making observations about the natural world around us.

Pipetting pros!

Making observations leads to asking questions. The next challenge for the NEHS students was to come up with awesome questions, and then figure out how to answer them. After much brainstorming and streamlining, the research projects were fueled by exciting questions: Which mosses retain the most water? Do green crabs have a habitat preference? How does soil composition vary around the island? What is the difference between photosynthesis rates of deciduous and coniferous trees? Do plankton populations vary at high and low tide? This variety of questions requires a variety of tools and data collection methods. Students employed oxygen probes, plankton tow nets, quadrats, and balances, in addition to thinking critically and collaborating. I am grateful to work at a science institution that provides (and encourages!) opportunities for field work, not solely lab work. I loved seeing all the science in action all over the island!

The data collection and analysis set students up for their final presentations – what a way to culminate an awesome week! The students were excited to share their findings, even despite some nerves about public speaking. I loved seeing their enthusiasm for their projects, and was inspired by the sheer number of possibilities for future investigations.

Group volleyball at dusk

Beyond experiencing science while they were here on Hurricane Island, the students experienced our community, and created community for each other. Josh and I introduced “Rose, bud, thorn” to the NEHS group during our campfire late in the week. Rose, bud, thorn is a way for every member of a group to share something meaningful. The “rose” is the highlight of the day (or week), the “bud” is what you are looking forward to, and the “thorn” is a low point, or obstacle that has been overcome. The NEHS group embraced rose, bud, thorn and shared openly about their personal experiences. Prior to the trip, most students knew at least a few people in the group, but by the end of the week, the group was more cohesive. Numerous students commented on group cohesion and new friendships as a “rose,” and others embraced vulnerability while sharing their “thorns.” One student reflected that being open-minded and sharing roses, buds, and thorns allowed “everyone to connect and feel like part of a great community.” Strength in community is a special component of the trip that students can bring with them as they return to school.

THANK YOU to the Northeast students and staff who embraced new experiences and worked hard to make the most of the week on Hurricane Island. I learned a lot from you and I enjoyed the week of programming. I commented on only a handful of the magical pieces that brought life and energy to the week. I felt the magic, and I hope you did too.


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