During the first week of December, 37 CedarBridge Academy Senior School Year 2 students delved into the intricate world of zooplankton and food webs while visiting BIOS through its Signature Learning Partnership with the Ministry of Education. The immersive experience was designed to enhance students’ understanding of the marine ecosystems, and offered a sneak peek at their next lesson about trophic levels. Participants gained hands-on experience which supported Cambridge curricular standards, closely aligning the experience with school learning goals.
The educational journey began with a lecture by Science Education Coordinator, Alex Merkle-Raymond, that provided a comprehensive overview of plankton and their pivotal role in the marine food chain. Plankton are organisms that cannot actively swim against a current, and every organism in the ocean depend direct or indirectly on plankton as a food source. They are a highly engaging topic for local pupils, and students were fascinated by uncovering the secret of the tiny animals present in the local water bodies.
Following this, students participated in a hands-on activity during which they constructed their own food chains using plankton and other local marine species. The highlight of the exercise proved to be the simulation of toxin movement through the food chain, powerfully demonstrating the interconnectedness of the ocean and human health. Students saw first-hand how toxins impact animal food sources and ultimately, human health, and following the exercise Dasia-Nae, an S2 biology student said “I didn’t know that when whales eat krill, and fish eat other fish, that toxins can become larger.”
As part of their training, students boarded R/V Rumline, one of our inshore research vessels, with Captains Chris Flook and Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis to take part in a plankton tow in Ferry Reach which deepened their practical knowledge. The students helped to deploy a plankton net which was towed behind the boat, enabling participants to actively assist in the collection of zooplankton.
Back in the laboratory, students investigated the plankton they had caught near campus in Ferry Reach. They identified different planktonic species using scientific equipment and keys which encouraged them to draw from their experiences earlier that day. Students then honed their scientific illustration skills by sketching five distinct species, translating what they were seeing under the microscope, to scientific observations.
Following the lecture, boat excursion, and laboratory experience, students were transported into a virtual underwater realm through Vision3 and Conservation International's immersive experience, "Drop in the Ocean." This Virtual Reality (VR) encounter allowed students to explore the marine environment and gain novel insights into the delicate balance between ocean ecosystems, and the importance of conservation efforts to ocean and human health. VR was effectively utilized as a tool to demonstrate to students that ingestion of microplastics and toxins in the planktonic food web have long lasting implications for the health of our oceans and are inextricably connected to human health. The multifaceted learning experience encouraged students to make tangible connections between theoretical knowledge and real-world application.
Showcasing the power of partnerships, our collaboration with CedarBridge Academy has delivered experiential training which fostered a deeper understanding of complex marine science topics. Through a combination of lectures, hands-on activities, fieldwork, and innovative technology, students not only learned about plankton and food webs but also developed a deep appreciation for the interconnected web of life in our oceans. “Our lesson on Zooplankton was masterfully organized, ensuring a seamless blend of education and adventure. Students were not only captivated by the scientific process but also by the sheer beauty and diversity of the microscopic world they encountered. Engaged and inspired, the class unanimously agreed that this experience was not only educational but also a ton of fun! Without hesitation, we would wholeheartedly recommend this lesson to all learners, as it opened our eyes to the wonders of marine life in a way no textbook ever could,” said Ashley Robinson, a senior school science teacher from CedarBridge Academy after the field trip. Students’ understanding of plankton on a global scale was broadened but, further, they were equipped with the knowledge and practical experience to study species found in local waters around Bermuda. Students were enthusiastic and positive following their participation in this engaging experience which worked to motivate the next generation of scientists.