Oyster Outing with Class 5

Oyster Outing with Class 5

On a beautiful Monday morning, Class 5 students walked from 100 East End to the 90th street Ferry stop for a special activity. As they reached the dock, the small group of students (all of Class 5 would participate at varying times) wiggled with anticipation before splitting into two groups: The Water Team and The Oyster Team.

Each of these fifth-grade scientists were preparing to engage in “oyster gardening,” an integral part of New York Harbor School’s Billion Oyster Project (BOP). Through our partnership with BOP, students become restoration scientists “by answering key scientific questions about urban estuary restoration.” BOP is a “long-term, large-scale plan to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor and inspire young people in NYC to restore the ecology of their local marine government.”

As such, our students headed to the East River to conduct this important research. Each girl was assigned a specific and vital job from oyster measuring, identifying organisms, oyster data recorder to testing the water for salinity or nitrate.

To begin, two students assigned to “bucket duty” were tasked with the essential responsibility of lowering a large bucket (attached to a rope) over the side of the pier to gather water for sampling. Concurrently, students hoisted up the oyster cage (with the help of chaperones Head of MS Physical Education Nick DePaola and Head of MS Science Anna Mello) on the other side of the dock. (Class 5 science teacher Juliana Brassfield and Class 5 Associate Teacher Augie Sherman were also on hand to help the students.)

Once enough water was collected, the students on the water team got straight to work using pipettes, pH scales, test tubes, chemical keys and other tools to investigate its quality. The students tested for nine different elements including pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen.

On the opposite end, our astute Oyster Team was busy inspecting and measuring. Several small organisms were found on or near the creatures, eliciting excited gasps from the students. The group spotted blue mussels, sea squirts, bristle worms and barnacles – depositing each into a clean bucket of water for observation.

Class 5 students learn a great deal about oysters throughout this endeavor, including the parts of an oyster (hinge, bill and left and right valves), the history of oysters in the NY Harbor and how oysters act and grow as a reef (which, in turn, protects our lands and provides life for many other organisms).

In addition, as this project is part of their Ecology unit, the girls have been delving into all things related to ecosystems including biotic (the living organisms in an ecosystem) and abiotic (nonliving, physical and chemical components in ecosystems) factors that affect population survival; food chains and food webs; and biodiversity.

As their time on 90th street came to an end, the students carefully washed their testing supplies, cleaned up their stations and turned in their data sheets.

Upon their return to the classroom, students debriefed by writing in their notebooks about this exciting experience. The scientists reflected on what they saw, what surprised them and what new questions have emerged from their research.