Casey Turner watched as two buckets of fresh pond water — full of writhing bloodworms, mosquito larvae, water bugs and other aquatic wildlife — were heaved into the center of his fifth-grade classroom on a recent Wednesday.
The 10- and 11-year-olds were mesmerized when that biological soup was then poured onto the floor in the center of the class, releasing an army of pond insects and crustaceans. Turner, a teacher at James B. Sanderlin Elementary School, was wringing his hands: "This is the part when I worry about my classroom having an 'Eau de Pond' fragrance for the next couple of months," he said.
The activity was part of an environmental learning project launched at the school. Sanderlin Elementary recruited Canadian environmental scientist Dr. Don Waite to teach students about biology and the environment through educational singing, lectures and experiments over a course of three days.
Though the 75 kilogram sample of pond water, extracted from Sawgrass Lake, didn't make direct contact with the floor, only a few thin layers of plastic prevented the murky fluid from soaking into the classroom carpeting. Students held the corners of the plastic barrier to prevent the water from leaking out, and then examined the different organisms living in it.
Ten-year-old Josephine Hooks thought she made an alarming discovery: "We have a new species!" the exuberant fifth-grader shouted as she examined a black spec in the water; it turned out to be a dragonfly nymph.
Waite, who splits his time between working for the Canadian government as a research scientist and leading educational programs for children, said his visit to Sanderlin intended to teach students biology through a hands-on approach.
"The kids really get into it because they could touch the organisms," he said, "They also learn cooperation, observation and listening skills."
According to school principal Denise Miller, the 24 children in the program will reteach what they learned to other fifth-graders.
Waite, whose program was paid for by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, presented his teaching experiences at Sanderlin to the society's annual meeting in Tampa, held from Nov. 16-20.