Training volunteer teachers in the lore of marine life
Most of my fellow passengers had not yet arrived that crisp October morning, when I hoisted myself over the railing onto the afterdeck of the Jere Chase in Portsmouth Harbor. But a few minutes later, as the others - all docents in the University of New Hampshire marine program - boarded agilely, despite their bulky multilayered clothing, I noticed that six of them fitted the identification I had given of myself: white-haired. One most definitely did not: six-month-old Belinda, peering winsomely from her mother's zippered windbreaker, under which her carrier was firmly anchored.Skip to next paragraph
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Our group was made up of community volunteers who are specially trained by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) program to provide marine education to pupils in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts schools. In their school visits, docents visit classrooms to introduce displays, films, and activities that help pupils learn the ecology, industry, and lore of marine life. As part of a UNH docent-led ''day at sea'' at Paul School in Wakefield, N.H., for example, sixth-graders built a 20-foot-long whale from 92 plastic garbage bags, which they then inflated.
Docents brought live specimens of sea life to Barrington Elementary School for ''Day of the Coast''; students were asked to match them to index cards bearing a picture of a marine plant or animal and its name. Mussels, starfish, urchins, periwinkles, crabs, and seaweed were scrutinized under hand-held microscopes in this docent-provided exercise.
Sand-painting, fish-painting, and algae-pressing are other marine-related activities docents initiate.
UNH marine docents undergo an extensive orientation program, which averages eight lectures and eight field trips within a three-month period. The program is funded by the federally financed University of New Hampshire-University of Maine Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.
I had come to sample their training and to get familiar with this innovative educational program, which taps unused, volunteer talent.
''I love it!'' said volunteer Barbara Elkerton, who lived in Puerto Rico and a number of states before settling in New Hampshire. ''I just wish I could have learned this much about each place when I was there.''
But while docents are urged to specialize, they are also required to get some ''hands on'' (or ''hands in'') experience in oceanography.
Once on board the Jere Chase, Sharon Meeker, head of the docent program, promptly ordered us to stow our gear below. She then began distributing equipment for measuring turbidity, salinity, and temperature, as our cruise proceeded from ocean to bay to river.
She held up the electronic thermometer - a wooden plank supporting a readout device, with a long probe attached. The air-temperature reading was 5 degrees C.
Two ''volunteers'' from among the 24 docents on board (21 women and 3 men) were summoned to the side rail to lower a plastic bucket into Portsmouth Harbor. They retrieved it with a splash and sloshed the contents into a tall, thin, glass beaker supported by two other volunteers. Then a hydrometer, an elongated glass bulb, was inserted into the beaker. Ms. Meeker explained that the line where the bulb touched the slightly depressed surface of the water was the measure of the water's salinity: 29 points per thousand. This was subsequently recorded as 32, after adjusting for temperature.
The turbidity factor was determined by suspending overboard a secchi disk, which resembled a garbage-can lid. The depth at which it disappeared from view - 3.3 meters (about 11 feet) - could be ascertained by counting knots in the rope which prevented its permanent disappearance.