Rethinking Environmental Science

By Susan Black

Each year, some schools in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., send teachers and students on day trips to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore.

Scientists guide kindergarten through third-grade students on expeditions that wind along wetlands and through forests. Students in grades four through six team up with researchers to study the restoration of oyster reefs and the lifespan of blue crabs. Middle school and high school students canoe channels to map erosion sites and to observe the ways migratory birds adapt to the ever-changing tidal marshes.

Students from the far corners of the U.S. and from other countries also participate in the Chesapeake-based scientists’ research projects, albeit without getting their boots wet. The scientists use distance learning and electronic field trips to teach “complex environmental issues” that affect both Chesapeake Bay and the students’ home ecosystems, such as arid deserts and grassland prairies.

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