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  • Tracy Webb

Notes from the Field

Crossing the Gulf

Ask anyone to explain their sense of place, the importance of "where I live and why," and invariably they will try to describe this intangible feeling regarding the environment – "the air is so fresh; I need to be near the ocean; I love the woods" and so on. A key aspect of inspiring students with Place-Based Education (PBE) is to help them acknowledge and explore their environment - their unique sense of place, while teaching concepts and hopefully, instilling a feeling of stewardship for the environment, along with the way.

In recent months, a unique collaboration has developed across the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy between groups of American and Canadian teachers working together to develop common goals of sustainability, stewardship, and citizenship through scientific exploration and social forums. By applying knowledge gained through experimentation and analysis, these teachers will ultimately gain better understanding of several major issues affecting our everyday bioregions –such as climate change, the impacts of invasive species, and the positive benefits of properly harnessing tidal energy.

During the two-day GOMI conference hosted by Dr. Anna Redden at Acadia University, August 24-25th, a group of Nova Scotian teachers from the Annapolis Valley started immediately on Phase One – getting their drifters built! I was one of those teachers!

We were so fortunate that three other drifters were available for our use, as they had been recovered from other trials, so we had four to make. After problem-solving a few glitches with John Halloran and Dr. Brian Saunderson, we were ready to test them in our local swimming hole, and all were ready to go except one – glug, glug, glug. Thanks to John for being our drifter tester, especially on such a hot sunny day! Always test your gear before deployment, as it can be retrieved in a few feet of water but not so well in the ocean!

Drifters provide essential data points for analysis, and over time, can provide an emerging picture of the water flow patterns in the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. Our group set our drifters free on Wednesday, August 24th around 18:30. There was a good wind blowing up the bay, opposite to the direction of the tide. In a lobster boat, we were tossed quite a bit as we went out about 4-5 km offshore from Hall's Harbour.

After the drifters were launched, we began to get data, and observe the drifters zigzagging back and forth over the same general area, in and out with the tide. It was fascinating to watch the updates, and sooner or later some of them will likely break out of this pattern. It was apparent that the behavior of the drifters was not easy to predict. Each drifter was like an individual puzzle piece – with a mind of its own, it seemed! With an exciting first day behind us, we celebrated our successful drifter launches with a BBQ supper and social time. It was great to have casual conversations about the overall project, and how we could work together from different schools.

Next morning we experienced the engaging Climate Café Discussion facilitated by Shari Melto, GOMI Board of Directors, facilitated and two students (Connor Saunderson and Margaret Hopkins) – great to have the inter-generational approach to learning! The format involved the first speaker posing a suggested response to an issue, followed by three listeners who then responded to the speaker in turn. They focused on a different listening skill, such as reiterating the problem and solution, and reasons, clarifications, asked more specific leading questions, etc. – valuable process and skill sets for everyone to learn and incorporate into their conversations. A Garden Tour of Acadia’s K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre then followed the discussion. It would be difficult to imagine anyone not appreciating this area, a truly magnificent place with rich biodiversity and peaceful thought-provoking paths through woods and greenery. It is open to the public at all times and is a perfect outdoor classroom for observing and learning about our native plants and flowers.

After lunch, Dr. Michael Stokesbury, Acadia University, gave an entertaining presentation, as he demonstrated further applications of scientific studies and knowledge relative to the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. With many fishers gravely concerned by the placement of large tidal energy turbines in the Bay of Fundy, it is critical to understand and explain fish behavior and potential impacts on various life stages of marine organisms. Dr. Stokesbury shared some of his research findings of the sturgeon, and it was fascinating to learn that the sturgeon tend to stay put in one or two key mid-bay areas over the winter, and often do not swim at depths greater than 50 m, usually at an average of 31 m. This bodes well for both the sturgeon and the possible placement of tidal energy turbines.

The conference drew slowly to a close with three more related experiences, one – visiting the tidal tank project of an Acadia student (Eileen Haskett), assessing the impact and effects of various tidal ranges and resulting suspended sediment load on the biota of the mudflats; two – exploring the NS Tidal Energy Atlas (Dr. Richard Karsten, Acadia University) and the diverse data sets available for analysis; three – the Tide Tank and propeller energy experiment using Logger Pro software with Meghan Swanburg, Acadia University. Excellent resources for students and teachers alike! Thanks to all who gave of their time to allow us these experiences and share in your work!

The event came to a close with the final debriefing by Dr. John Terry on the proposed Teacher Toolbox, the GOMI Journal, and expectations for all of us, as team Nova Scotia! We agreed that more time was needed to brainstorm and develop concrete plans for implementing these concepts into our courses. We expect that with a few more meetings locally over this coming year, we will have some resources in the works, and be able to report our lessons and successes, or discoveries, to our U.S. colleagues when they visit next summer!

The potential of a project of this nature is immense, with developing curriculum and activities to involve students with hands-on science, learning how to analyze data, and promoting sense of place with PBE and stewardship for sustainability. So much can be learned from the drifter data, combined with the NS Tidal Atlas, and current research from universities such as Acadia, and from Canadian and American scientists involved in oceanography and related sciences. The more we find out, the more questions we have – isn’t that the idea? What a gift of learning to demonstrate, model and promote with students!

Tracy Webb, Horton High School, Nova Scotia, Canada


Tracy Webb is starting her 33rd year teaching at Horton High School in the Annapolis Regional School Board, NS. Her usual courses are Science 10, Oceans 11 and Geology 12, and she also is the Extended Essay Coordinator for the school’s IB students. In addition to many professional organizations, committees, presentations and lead teams, Tracy has been actively involved in environmental issues for a long time. As a teacher, she values her position to encourage inquiry and engage curiosity, hopefully inspiring youth to get more involved with the outdoor world, and to creatively think with no box in sight!

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