College Corner: Experiencing biology firsthand

Invertebrate Biology class from the Comox Valley travelled to Ucluelet

Dr. Aisling Brady

Special to The Record

 

Educators are taught students learn best through experiential learning, but until you actually see the engagement and enthusiasm in your students, it is only another teaching tool.

NIC’s second-year Invertebrate Biology class from the Comox Valley travelled to Ucluelet June 5-7 to learn science first hand.

Traditionally, invertebrate biology courses encourage learning through lectures and labs, where preserved samples are often presented in isolation. As an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, this was exactly how I gained my appreciation of invertebrate diversity.

Fortunately, nine NIC students were able to experience our coastline’s rich biodiversity. They observed organisms they learned about in class and saw them in action, interacting with other animals and the environment.

The students observed invertebrates in several intertidal surveys, beginning at the water’s edge and moving up the shoreline. They sampled sheltered bays and exposed rocky intertidal zones, discovering how and why different habitats harbour unique animal communities.

A boat ride was also in order to conduct plankton tows to give students a glimpse of the microscopic larvae present in the oceans.

Students observed the influence of the El Niño effect and how it changes the location of plankton off our coastal waters. With our 50-foot tow we were only able to view photosynthetic plankton (phytoplankton) as zooplankton larvae were likely in the deeper, cooler water during the day. As El Niño events increase in frequency with climate change this will affect us more often.

The trip’s highlight was exclusive access to the Ucluelet Aquarium, where curator and former NIC science student Laura Griffith Cochrane and the aquarium’s experienced staff, highlighted behaviours and adaptations unique to each type of organism learned about in class.

My highlight was hearing students say, “This was the most productive I’ve been the entire school year,” and “I can’t believe we have to go back to the classroom to learn now.”

Their excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. It renewed my love for marine biology and animal diversity and affirmed students really do learn best through experiential education. Luckily, NIC’s small class sizes make trips like this a reality for students, and in my opinion, better prepares them for academic life.

Dr. Aisling Brady teaches first and second-year biology courses at NIC. She also leads NIC’s nationally funded aquaculture research.

 

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