Fifth Grade Citizen Scientists to the (Turtle) Rescue!

in Winter 2021 by

Under the careful supervision of science teacher Meg Armour, fifth graders at Park are assisting with conservation efforts for critically threatened Blanding’s Turtles. Moose and Nugget (thoughtfully named by the students after a lengthy selection process) are part of the Hatchling and Turtle Conservation Through Headstarting (HATCH) program, which places newly hatched turtles into classrooms where they can be raised over the course of the year and released in the spring. Turtles raised in the program are estimated to be forty times more likely to survive into adulthood. Eggs and newly hatched turtles with soft shells are especially vulnerable to predators; even chipmunks are a major threat!

Moose and Nugget currently live a chipmunk-free existence at Park, with students measuring them and charting their growth weekly to report back to the HATCH scientists. Three times a year, students have virtual lessons with the scientists and learn more about species conservation.

Science teacher Meg Armour on the Assabet River in Sudbury

Meg uses the Blanding’s Turtles as a foundation for project-based learning throughout the year. Students see practical applications for math and science in a real-world situation. They chart the growth of the turtles, and the turtles provide context when learning about ecosystems, food webs, and watershed ecology. The turtles even make a guest appearance in Growth Ed conversations, where students are fascinated to learn that the biological sex of a turtle is impacted by nest temperature.

Caring for threatened turtles is a sizable task, and Meg relies on student help. The tank needs to be cleaned once a week, and Meg has interested students fill out a job application and receive training before they come help during recess. “Students know that these aren’t our pets, they’re our responsibility,” Meg says. “I make sure they know that I’m trusting them, that this is a big job. Students feel honored, and I think they feel the responsibility.”

Turtle Techs measure the carapace weekly.

The perks are good; time with Moose and Nugget (who a reliable source says “are so adorable”), and the knowledge that they’re doing something important. On school breaks, Meg needs to bring the turtles to her own home; because they’re a threatened species, a special permit would be required to send them home with a student!

 

Meg says it’s powerful to see students experience first-hand that citizen scientists can make a difference. Global concerns like climate change, disease, and food production are all issues that can feel overwhelming. Fifth graders at Park get to be part of a solution to an environmental problem. They see science in action, and experience their own power to help.

Ideas for Discussing at Home: 

  • What does it mean when an animal is endangered? 
  • How do you think losing a species might impact other animals? Plants? Us? 
  • What do you think are some of the top reasons animals become endangered, and what are some actions we can take to help? 
  • Look for the helpers; what big problems does our world face today? Can you find examples of people trying to solve them using science?
Thank you to Meg Armour for leading the HATCH program at Park, speaking to me for this article, and providing photos and student work for this piece. Thanks to the Park PA for funding the pilot year of this program and the purchase of the aquarium and equipment, and to the Annual Fund that supplements the programmatic budget to ensure Park students have opportunities like HATCH.

The parent volunteers on the Park Parent Editorial Board write articles on current events at the School and matters of interest to the Park community for this quarterly newsletter. We are always looking to grow our team of volunteer writers and photographers. If you are interested in learning more, please contact TheParkParent@parkschool.org