Set Sail During School

Stepping outside the traditional classroom and into nature

Sail Newport’s mission is to provide community access to the water – and what better way to do this, than partner with a local school and give children the opportunity to learn how to sail in their own backyard. This past fall, Sail Newport started an experiential learning program for Pell Elementary School fourth graders. Nearly 180 students participated in the 16-week program throughout the school year. The students spend half of the time on the water learning to sail with the other half filled with shoreside lessons focused on the island and surrounding waters.

marine science, whales, plankton

As a part of the program, for three different weeks in the spring, Sailors for the Sea created and taught curriculum to help students learn about their local waterways and issues that impact our ocean. Below are the focus questions of each week and associated activities:

How long till it’s gone?

Plastics pose an ever-increasing problem to marine ecosystems, as they are meant to last forever. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces, and don’t get absorbed into our natural systems. In this eye-opening activity, students placed 12 different items (i.e. orange peel, plastic straw, fishing line) along a timeline based on how long they thought it would take the item to degrade. Students learned how some materials can break down into nutrients to be used again by plants, but other materials (i.e. plastic bottles) will stay in the environment forever. By the end of the activity, students learned how to be more environmentally aware of the items they used and each made a commitment to help protect the ocean.

marine science, plastic pollution, plastics

What’s the difference between freshwater and saltwater?

Living on Narragansett Bay, an estuary where the freshwater from the rivers meets the saltwater from the ocean, provided the ideal opportunity for students to learn about salinity. In the first experiment, the students learned that saltwater (red) is denser than freshwater (blue) because saltwater contains dissolved salts that adds to the mass of the water. Pictured below, when freshwater (blue) is on top of saltwater (red), they two waters don’t mix. However, when saltwater (red) is on top of freshwater (blue), it will sink causing the waters to mix. The students also measured the salinity of Narragansett Bay surface water and bottom water using a hydrometer to see if their hypothesis from the previous experiment held true.

What’s hiding in the water?

Plankton are a diverse group of organisms that live in large bodies of water. One thing they all have in common is that they are unable to swim against the current. To learn what’s hiding in the waters they sail above, the students used plankton tows to collect organisms off the dock.

marine science, plankton

Using magnifying glasses and plankton ID sheets, the students tried to identify the diverse plankton they collected. They also learned that plankton are an important source of food to many animals including fish and whales.

marine science, plankton, magnifying glass

How do humans impact the environment?

To tie all the lessons together, in the last week Sailors for the Sea was educating, we played Whale Food Chain Jenga. In this modified version of Jenga, the blocks are colored to represent different parts of the food chain (phytoplankton, zooplankton, krill and small fish, and baleen whales).

whale food chain, plankton, krill, fish

Students remove or put back blocks based on information they read on the cards and can see how humans can have a negative or positive impact on the whale’s food chain. For example, a card may read "smog prevented sunlight from reaching the ocean preventing phytoplankton from growing." The students have to remove 2 phytoplankton blocks, which causes the food chain to become unstable. The students discovered the more positive things humans do for the environment, the more stable the ocean food chain becomes. 

whale food chain, plankton, krill, fish

Connecting with nature to enhance student's learning

Without this program, students might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience being on the water and seeing their home from a different perspective. We appreciated being a part of the program to help students engage with and learn about their natural surroundings. 

marine science, education

Having the support of Dr. Brown for our spring academic lessons for the 4th grade Pell School sailing program was amazing! She delivered such incredibly dynamic content in an organized and relevant manner. Her classroom management was calm and engaging for all involved, even the adults!”- Donna Kelly - Education Chair, Sail Newport  

She made great connections and extensions of our curriculum. Her presentations were fabulous and on the kid’s level.” - Mrs. Moore - 4th grade instructional lead, Pell School

Want to use these activites with your kids?

All of these lessons are a part of our KELP program. Visit our KELP page to download them for free!