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O’Maley Students Get a Pre-Christmas Visit

Students look at sturgeon specimens to learn more about biology. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

O'Maley School six graders learn about SCUTES.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

T’was the week before Christmas when all through the school…

All the six graders were gathered to learn about sturgeon and see NOAA’s new teaching tool ...

A larger than life blow up sturgeon! How cool!

NOAA Fisheries’ Edith Carson and Colleen Coogan, together with 30 year veteran fisherman Peter Ferrante, participated in a week long educational program at the O'Maley Innovation Middle School in Gloucester, MA. The goal was to help more than 250 six-grade students learn more about the oceans. 

Prior to the visit, the teachers used an interdisciplinary approach in their lesson planning. Almost all of the sixth grade teachers (social studies, science, math, etc.) were teaching SCUTES sturgeon-related lesson plans. SCUTES, also known as Students Collaborating to Undertake Tracking Efforts for Sturgeon,  involves NOAA Fisheries staff, students, teachers and researchers working together to learn more about the movements, behavior and threats to shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon along the East Coast of the United States. Shortnose sturgeon are listed as endangered coast-wide, and Atlantic sturgeon are listed as threatened in the Gulf of Maine and endangered throughout the rest of their range. The reasons for sturgeon decline are due to a combination of factors including previous overfishing, dams and other habitat changes, ship strikes, incidental catch mortality, and other human activities.  

Students engaged in a variety of activities throughout the week. The SCUTES activity book was used in different classes and as a homework assignment. Some classes created posters with sturgeon facts on them (food web, life cycle, etc.). One group of students even wrote sturgeon-related lyrics and set them to a popular tune!

Over three days, Edith visited the sixth grade science classes to talk about sturgeon biology and what NOAA Fisheries does to conserve and protect both Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon populations. Edith split the classes into small groups. The groups engaged in activities including 1) natal homing, a smelling activity, where the students have to smell their way to their natal1 river; 2) fossil casting, where students collect data like a paleontologist by looking at a scute2 fossil casting; and 3) a sturgeon scavenger hunt, where the students examined preserved specimens  to answer various questions. Students also were invited to participate in the regional office’s annual art contest, which is focused on Endangered Species.

But the real highlight of Edith’s visit was the debut of an inflatable sturgeon.  O’Maley students, along with other schools involved in SCUTES, also are participating in a contest to name the inflatable sturgeon.  Winners will be announced after the holidays.  

“Atlantic sturgeon can grow as long as 14 feet, so the inflatable is actually a little shorter than the real, live animal, said Edith. “While not anatomically perfect, it does help draw students into learning because they are amazed at how big these animals can get,” said Edith.    

The week wrapped up with presentations by Colleen Coogan and former fisherman Peter Ferrante who shared their experiences in marine resource management and on the water.  Read more about Colleen’s and Peter’s presentations in a Gloucester Daily Times story that ran on December 21.

  1. Natal – pertaining to birth
  2. Scutes – modified boney ganoid scales on sturgeon; there are five rows on a sturgeon’s body that extend from the head to the base of the tail