Maine initiative brings aquaculture to schools
By Matt Jones
By Matt Jones
One of the biggest challenges for educators is getting students to fully engage in the subject matter being studied. Place-based learning has thus emerged as an educational philosophy to enhance student engagement with issues in their own communities.
In Maine, where aquaculture is growing as wild fisheries decline, bringing aquaculture into the classroom will help students understand what’s going on in their communities, believes Morgan Cuthbert, a seventh-grade science teacher at Frank H. Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, Maine. In 2019, Cuthbert started an initiative called, Aquaculture me!”, to help other educators in Maine integrate aquaculture into their curriculum.
He says aquaculture in the classroom also helps improve science education. “The biggest issue I see when teaching science is linking students to authentic research and making the curriculum feel real and relatable.”
Since integrating aquaculture into his school curriculum, the impact on students is clear: “Place-based learning, where the students were hands-on, actually doing the science and watching something grow in front of them and connecting with the sea farmers around them, increased their engagement,” he says.
Bright yellow buoys in the water bodies near local homes are a familiar sight for Cuthbert’s students. Helping them to understand what those buoys are, what may be growing beneath them and what farming looks like up close make their learning more tangible, he says.
“Asking kids to spore kelp in the classroom and help a sea farmer to put it out on the long lines then watch it grow to a nine-foot kelp is one of those really cool moments.”
In January, Aquaculture me! gathered teachers, aquaculture researchers and specialists from around Maine for professional development. A second event, funded with a $5,000 grant from Maine Sea Grant, was scheduled for July but was cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, a virtual event is being planned for mid-September.
While it’s possible that Sea Grant could again fund another Aquaculture me! event in 2021, Cuthbert continues to seek other potential funding sources who would see the value in the initiative.
“Maine is a waterfront community. We live on the coast and have all these major fisheries so looking at workforce development and getting kids engaged in the science behind aquaculture is really important,” he says. “The hope is that students will look forward to aquaculture as a career path.”