Fifth graders become undersea experts |

Fifth graders become undersea experts

Josh MillerStudents from Mr. Franey's underwater classroom at Truckee Elementary have fun in the "Cool Coral Cove."

From butcher paper sharks to cellophane tide pools, one Truckee Elementary class has been studying life under the ocean in a classroom that looks like it is, well, under the ocean.

Instead of taking a traditional written final, teacher Mike Franey’s fifth-grade students learned about oceanography by creating an underwater ecosystem.

“It’s really a motivational tool to let them sit in the environment they’re studying,” Franey said. “I get a lot more work out of them that way.”

And work he got.

Every square inch of Franey’s classroom was covered with plant and animal life from various ocean ecosystems this week and last. The room was divided into stations, and Franey’s students gave visiting, younger students tours of the underwater environment.

“I liked this project because you get to interact with the little kids,” said fifth-grader Becca Noble.

A kelp center, a tide pool station, a shell station and a coral cove were all created by students for students in the three-month-long oceanography project.

Teagan Shurtleff, a student in Mr. Franey’s class, said the station with the dark, lower waters of the benthic zone (an enclosed curtain of butcher paper with tiny holes punched in it to represent microscopic organisms) was her favorite.

“I like it because it is dark and scary sometimes, like it would be down under the ocean,” she said.

The students gave a tour of their underwater classroom to younger students and sometimes parents for five days, sometimes three times per day. Each day, Franey randomly places students in different stations, so they have to be proficient in all areas of oceanography to accurately present the material.

The fifth graders also boost their public speaking skills by presenting the information to others; the students’ final project grades are based on their speeches during the tour. For some, talking to a group of people has been the biggest challenge.

“My experience has been really fun, but I’ve been nervous a couple of times,” said fifth-grader Kristen McNamara. “Other than that, it’s been fun.”

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