“The heart of the trip is at a place called Project Oceanology—Project O for short,” explains science teacher Susan Lewis. “It’s a unique and wonderful place in Groton, Connecticut dedicated to ocean education.”
Since its founding in 1972, Project O’s mission has been “to nurture interest and inspire enthusiasm for science and for our planet’s marine environment.” The non-profit collaborates with educational institutions and universities like UCONN, and its year-round programs are led by marine biologists, educators, and advocates. In fact, according to its website, Project O educates more than 25,000 students and adults annually inside their 22,000 square foot waterfront facility and onboard their research vessels.
For Middle School students at Nashoba Brooks, Project O offers a hands-on, interdisciplinary experience. It serves as a bridge between the Grade 6 earth science curriculum that they have been engaged with all year and the life science curriculum they will explore in Grade 7.
“We pack a lot into one overnight!” exclaims Lewis enthusiastically. First, students go out on the fifty-two-foot vessel Enviro-Lab II and explore the physical oceanography of Long Island Sound. They test water for salinity, clarity, and acidity. They use scientific equipment and methods to analyze data, and they learn about the dramatic changes in the health of the water over the years and the effects of global warming.
Students also collect marine life. They cast giant trolling nets and inventory what they catch: fish, plankton, and crabs. At night, back on shore, they explore the critter bins in the lab until 9:00 p.m. before retiring for sleep in Project O’s dorm facilities.
The next morning, students wake early for a jog, followed by tide pooling and a beach cleanup at Bluff Point State Park. In giant waders, the girls wield large nets and collect samples from the estuary, which they then compare to the larger samples from the Project O boat. After this final seaside lab, they board the buses and make a final stop at Mystic Aquarium before heading back to Nashoba Brooks.
The trip to Project O is a highlight of the Grade 6 experience for Nashoba Brooks students, who relish the opportunity to investigate environmental issues in the real world while engaging in the collaborative style of learning they enjoy at School. In addition to personal growth and independence, the girls build community through group activities and make connections between physical oceanography and marine biology.
“This experience provides wonderful opportunities for both learning and community building,” remarks Lewis. “It’s a real milestone for a lot of the students and the first overnight for many.”
Through their continued partnership with Project O, Nashoba Brooks offers students an immersive and engaging marine science experience year after year. It’s just one of many outdoor experiential education opportunities available at the School.