When eighth graders enter Katie Allen’s Marine Biology class at Henry H. Wells Middle School, it is all business.
“Grab your goggles and gloves and meet me at the center lab table,” Allen says.
The students gather around as Allen, probe in hand, provides step-by-step instructions.
“To open the clam, take the probe and slide it under the mantle. Use your hands to remove the top. You’ll see the valve or shell is still attached with strong muscles. Cut off the mantle and gills. In the middle you will see the visceral mass, make a transverse dissection above the foot, mouth, stomach and intestines and gonads. If we have time, we will do a gender reveal. You may even find a pearl, if you find a pearl, I have a case for you to take it home.”
The Marine Biology class prepares students to think critically about topics such as global climate change, human impacts on the ocean, and biodiversity. It is also in keeping with the Brewster Central School District’s focus on STEM and hands-on learning.
Allen, who spends as much time as possible at the beach or on the water, is the perfect choice to teach the class. She is fascinated by oceans and animal behavior. This year, the class will also dissect perch and sharks. .
Andre Giron and Estrella Knight work together at a lab table, each wearing an apron, blue gloves, and goggles. “I didn’t even know a clam had a heart or a foot before this,” said Estrella.
At a nearby lab table, Kaden Anderson and Sandro Velardo, peer into their open clam.
“See the dark part? Those are the intestines. Do we just start cutting?” asked Kaden.
“Yes, start with the scissors,” said Sandro, “I think we are cutting into the visceral mass. It’s the big thing, right? Mrs. Allen, is that what we do?”
Allen walks over and said,” feel the foot, the visceral mass is squishy, it won’t bite you-touch it, then make a transverse dissection.”
Bella Anfuso and Elisa explain exactly what they are doing as they work “the foot looks like a tongue–it helps the clam burrow under the sand.”
The class, working quietly and quickly, is able to make it to the gender reveal. Allen scoops a sample from Bella and Elisa’s clam. One by one, students walk over to a microscope and peek at the slide–one student asks, ”Cool, is that an egg?”
But the excitement of the gender reveal is lost when Estrella shouts from across the room. “We found a pearl!” She stretches out her hand, on her right index finger sits a tiny white gem.