Friday, September 5, 2014

An Oceanic Kick-Off to 2nd Grade

Me & my three incredible kids wiggling our toes in the pacific.
Most kids in our area headed back to school this past week, following up Labor day with a return to home and routine.  As for us?  We kicked off our academic year in style, too, but we opted not to wait until after the holiday, and we traveled to the opposite coast to do it.  Welcome to second grade/pre-K, let's jump into some oceanography! (and then the Pacific Ocean itself.)

While visiting our friend Cat in Santa Barbara, she took us to a wharf not far from her home which featured, among other things, a little sea center.  It was tiny, but very informative, and perfect for our little clan.  It housed a mini-aquarium premised on the idea that all the creatures you could learn about in the center could be found by just exploring the waters below the wharf and along the adjacent beach.

The sharks we were able to touch

While I generally dislike petting zoo situations, I admit it was really amazing to see the kids begin to appreciate the sharks they were able to gently stroke on a much more real level - a step away from "agh! shark! dangerous!" and more toward it being a real, living being...and I learned for myself that stroked in one direction they feel quite smooth, but going in the opposite direction, it feels quite spiney. 

One of the coolest things we got to see during this trip was SHARK EGGS.  They were breeding these sharks in-house, and had the eggs on display as well.  It was really amazing to see the tiny sharks wriggling about in the eggs-and then seeing how the older fetuses were folded in on themselves, about ready to burst free.
Shark Eggs
There was tons of awesome stuff there - urchins, sea stars, giant snails, of course mussels...they had a wheel of fortune type deal to see if you as a fish would survive to (and through) adulthood. (spoiler:  the chances weren't good.)  And they had a (somewhat creepy) dolphin-a-la body worlds on display, with some innards moved out and it's infant partially in the womb...very interesting from an anatomically educational standpoint, but somewhat gruesome.

They also had a big, dark room with a bunch of black-lit jellyfish (and friends!) in it, which was, of course, beautiful.

Hazel gazes at some radiant creatures
But the most thrilling part of the trip for the kids was our visit to the hands-on oceanography center at the back of the building.  There, they had a big hole cut in the floor that was open to the sea below, and they had all sorts of equipment - and docents - on hand.  They explained to us how each test worked, and then guided us through performing several experiments ourselves.  We measured water clarity, pulled up crab traps, and collected water samples and samples of sediment from the ocean floor.

James helps Hazel see over the edge, down into the water below
Afterwards, we sifted through the sediment to see what it was made up of.  we found many shards of shells and a few creatures mixed in with the sand. Then, we took petri dishes with some of our findings over to a video microscope for closer inspection.

Hazel and Calliope sifting through a sediment sample
Cat looks at some live creatures on the large scope while Cadence and James check out some shell shards on the small one 

We also conducted a series of experiments on our water samples to check the Ph levels, the salinity of the water, and of course, temperature.
James assists Hazel pour water into the meter
The kids had great fun, and were very excited to get to use some real scientific equipment.  It was especially fun to take what we learned with us, and get to do some further exploration the next day, at the beach!  The kids were on the lookout for creatures - and other features - of the california coast habitat.  This photo has a picture of a pretty big sand crab if you look closely enough...they burrow super fast and snapping a pic was a bit of a challenge.  There were SO MANY (as the kids would exclaim) of the little tiny ones, but they darted away far too quickly...this guy was practically lumbering by comparison.

Sand crab in a bucket. if you look reeeeeaaaaally close, you may see at least one teensy one, too.
Hazel was not at all a fan of the kelp...her disdain for it reminded me of how much I used to despise the sensation of it wrapping around my ankles as a kid...Can't say I blame her for going out of her way to avoid it. She busied herself making sand castles and hunting for rocks that looked like seashells.

Hazel gathering materials for her creations 

Cadence was far less intimidated, and she and James ventured farther down the beach in search of tide pools among the rocks.  They kept getting distracted when she would try to dowse him with her bucket, though.


I am hoping that all the fun exploration we did this week will set the pace for an academic year full of the same.  We hit the ground running this week, and kept it up despite traveling home and the jet lag, attending a class about bats at a nearby nature center where we got to see some wild bats and talk about their importance to our ecosystem (among other things).  Here we go, 2nd grade, we're pleased to meet ya.