The sketch below is a student’s illustration of a food web. But something about it reminds me of an old pirate’s map.
Cord grass -> mud snail -> mummichog -> muskrat -> norther harrier.
20 paces to the fallen tree -> Left, 10 paces to the beach -> 5 paces to the rock formation. X marks the spot.
At first this doesn’t seem like a logical connection. They are very different things. What’s the similarity you might ask…?
They both lead to treasure.
This food web sketch was made by a Summer Connections program participant as part of the field notes each student completes on their exploration of Thompson Island’s salt marshes. Each page of notes is printed with prompts and contains space for the students’ to record their observations. The field notes function as part of Thompson Island’s hands-on science curriculum designed to help students practice scientific thinking. They are taught to ask questions and transform causal viewing into detailed observations. In their field notes, students illustrate the organisms and ecosystems they encounter and label them with scientific descriptions.
As part of the 5-week Summer Connections curriculum, students study matter and energy within coastal ecosystems and learn to use evidence to construct explanations of natural phenomena. By repeatedly practicing scientific thinking over the course of 5 weeks, students develop scientific mindsets that they then carry back to their classroom studies come autumn. In addition to educational tools, these students also bring back the confidence to tackle new STEM lessons.
In letters written to Thompson Island staff and supporters, the students share this experience in their own words: “I’m thankful for coming on this trip because I know a lot of kids in Boston don’t get chances like this. I learned a new kingdom in science!” wrote Angie in 2016. Another student shared, “Dear Thompson Island, We learned about ecosystems and green crabs. I’ve grown because I learned more about science. The best part of the course was learning new stuff.” And as demonstrated by a letter from a Connections student named Kyrah, what sticks with students is not just their excitement over practicing science, it’s also the knowledge that they are fully capable of becoming scientists. She writes, “Thanks for giving us a chance to come here, if it wasn’t for you, I would not have known how smart I am in science.”
This is why I see a connection between treasure and students embracing science in Thompson Island’s salt marshes.
After all, treasure is more than riches. In fairy tales and folk stories, treasure is riches discovered. And in Thompson Island’s marshes students discover not only the rich natural resources alive in the ecosystems that surround them but also the vast potential within themselves.