National Aquarium in Baltimore Brings Seventeen Henry Hall Scholars on Yearly Excursion to The Ecology School

Photo Courtesy of National Aquarium.

National Aquarium’s Henry Hall Program provides free excursions and educational/career opportunities to Baltimore high school students interested in marine and environmental science. For over 13 years the program has selected The Ecology School as one of its educational destinations in Maine. Henry Hall students—many of whom have never been to Maine—visit uniquely Maine ecosystems to test out their marine and environmental knowledge.

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Meg Edstrom Jones, The Ecology School’s Director of Educational Partnerships, led three days of programming for the 2019 Henry Hall Program, focused on field-based ecology and data collection. Through a foundation of The ABCs of Ecology, students applied scientific concepts to experiential lessons like the “Ecosystem Pattern Survey.”  In this lesson students were asked to compare the different features and patterns they observed in a variety of ecosystems and, as a group, figure out which factors impact the presence or absence of others. Everyone knows a forest and a beach do not look the same—but why? 

The field trip started in the forest adjacent to Ferry Beach State Park. In this lush and thriving ecosystem, students observed all the biotic (something living, like a pine cone or a salamander) and abiotic (something non-living, like a rock) factors that create nutrient rich soil, a diversity of plant life, and how they contribute to the productivity of the forest. Using scientific tools, like soil corers, students dug into the forest floor to see, first-hand, that the visible layers of nourishing material go far deeper than the layer of pine needles.

Students also considered the factors of disturbance that affect the forest, such as wind. Examples of disturbances range from wind, temperature, droughts, floods, small woodland fires to hurricanes, climate phenomena, and pollution. Disturbance plays a significant role in shaping the structure of individual populations and the character of whole ecosystems.

From the forest, the group made their way through several ecosystems: forest, pond, tertiary dune, secondary dune, primary dune, and the beach. At each unique ecosystem, they observed the presence of abiotic, biotic, and disturbance factors, comparing their findings with the previous ecosystems. Trees growing on the beach? Not usually. Rocks in each ecosystem? Yes!

“What we find—kind of the big comparison—between the forest and beach is that what really changes are the factors of disturbance and how strong they really are. At the beach, because the disturbance factors are so high, you have minimal amounts of plant life, nutrient levels, diversity, and productivity. Then, we compare that to the forest, where you have a lot more plant life, which means higher nutrient levels, more productivity, higher diversity, because of the lower occurrence of disturbances,” explained Meg Edstrom Jones, Director of Educational Partnerships.

The group of seventeen students used scientific tools like the soil corers and salinity meters, in addition to their five senses, to inventory the environment and develop a conclusion about the similarities and differences of patterns in different ecosystems. This survey exercise gives students the critical thinking skills and tools to inventory any ecosystem they encounter, anywhere in the world, and be able to understand the story the environment is telling.

Want to learn more about the Henry Hall Program? Here’s a few videos that follow and interview program participants.

I always played it safe. I always wanted to follow behind someone else. Finding things out for myself, like actually going out and taking action, being a good observer instead of looking at a textbook and watching slides in the classroom. This program really let you practice skills of you getting up off your butt and getting in nature to try and find something cool.
— Henry Hall Program Participant
Caitlin BrookePrograms