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Port Townsend Marine Science Center Supports FOSS

Libby Palmer, Educational Advisor, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Port Townsend, Washington
September 20, 2002 | Science and the Community

Have you noticed the science extension suggestions that are part of each FOSS investigation? A museum or science center in your community may be just the right partner for exploring them. This is the story of one collaboration that is helping enrich and support FOSS in Port Townsend, Washington, elementary schools. Hopefully, it will inspire you to find and develop a similar relationship in your community.

It started simply. Cheryl Greiger, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary School, visited the new Natural History Exhibit at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and realized that several exhibits fit in perfectly with the Earth Materials Module she was using in her class. She met with a Center teacher, described the experiences the children had, and the Center did the rest. According to Cheryl, "The students saw the connection. It was perfect. We shouldn't be taking them on just any old field trip any more. Trips should be connected to what they learn—and visits to the Center are!"

The students also had time to explore "Rivers of Ice," an exhibit dealing with glaciers, and "Reading the Rocks," an exhibit devoted to the rock cycle. A walk out the door and down to the beach took them to the source of the very rocks they were examining. Cheryl commented, "The Center takes science out of the box and into the local community, making it real for the children."

After this visit, Cheryl approached Center staff about additional classes to support the Physics of Sound and Solids and Liquids modules. Because the Center owned a complete grey whale skeleton that could be handled by students, it was easy to design a class to examine how whales make sounds and how these sounds are transmitted in the ocean. The classroom work students had done with the Solids and Liquids Module was perfect preparation for a class on diving birds. How can birds like cormorants or murres fly in the air and also dive down into the water where they "swim" using their wings or feet? Students examined bones of these marine birds, noticing their shape and weight, and learned about adaptations that enable them to move in both air and water.

As a result of this successful beginning, Center staff are actively planning classes and programs in support of many of the 21 different FOSS modules to be used in Port Townsend next year. Working closely with teachers and administrators, the Center plans to design and offer experiences that extend the science topics covered. For example, classes focusing on fossils are a natural connection to exhibits and collections at the Center featuring fossils of early whales, dolphins, crabs, clams, and mammoth teeth and tusks. Center teaching staff have been exploring ways of building on children's fascination with fossils to teach about adaptation, climate change, and geological time. The Center's large, inviting aquarium space that features live marine invertebrates in open touch pools is an extraordinary asset. Children can actively compare the fossils of ancient creatures with their living relatives.

Is there a science museum or environmental center in your community? Your students may already have visited one of them. Perhaps you even have field trips scheduled with them. But do they know about your use of FOSS kits? Schedule a meeting with their staff to share information and brainstorm ways of making visits more directly connected to FOSS content. Your students will gain by seeing real-life connections to the science they are learning. Teachers benefit by utilizing resources seldom available in a school setting. And the science museum fulfills its mission to support in-school teaching and learning. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

For more information about the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, contact Libby Palmer at or visit their website at