Can I Touch That?

Last spring, I was fortunate to be able to take the Beaty’s latest outreach kit to my old elementary school. I wanted to see firsthand how a classroom filled with students with diverse learning needs interacted with the specimens. I was also curious to know whether the lesson plans we had designed were sufficiently adaptable.

As a fourth year biology and oceanography student and aspiring educator, I could not have enjoyed working on a project more than I did while helping to create the Seashore Beaty Box. Did you know that baby sand dollars store grains of sand in their gut to help weigh them down? Or that Nuttall’s cockle uses its muscular foot to burrow into sediments but is also known for its stunning, leaping escape response to propel itself away from predators such as sea stars? I sure did not know these fun facts before working on this project! Beaty Boxes are filled with fun facts like these, as well as flashcards, lesson plans. . . the list goes on.

A Beaty Box is an outreach kit filled with biological specimens. There are four types of Beaty Boxes available, each hand-built and thoughtfully curated to focus on different topics. It takes a village to make a Beaty Box; Curators, members of the Education and Outreach team, and the Exhibits and Design team, as well as myself have all been hard at work over the last year to create the latest and most comprehensive box yet: the Seashore Beaty Box. The focus of this box is the seashore as a diverse environment with unique conditions and challenges that living things have adapted to in order to survive.

When I first started working at the Beaty, I found working with biological specimens to be an intimidating task, and I expect that many educators likely feel the same way. This is why we include a manual written for educators especially designed to provide necessary background information, handling instructions, curriculum links, and additional resources to empower educators to feel comfortable using this resource in the classroom.

Once I opened the box and laid out the specimens on different work stations throughout the classroom with the corresponding flashcards, the school bell rang and the students poured in. As they sat at their seats, transfixed by the specimens on their desks, they all had the same question, “CAN I TOUCH THAT?” Armed with the educator’s manual included inside the box, their teacher was able to demonstrate proper specimen handling techniques and give them permission to explore the box’s contents however they would like.

Each student explored the box differently. Some carefully read flashcards while others eagerly touched the specimens. I was amazed to hear the thoughtful observations made by these students. They were able to tell me exactly why it made sense that the Bay pipefish is long and thin like the eelgrass in which it is found, which easily transitioned to our lesson about how some adaptations help certain species avoid being eaten.

This experience proved to me that Beaty Boxes are a valuable tool for educators to help students explore biodiversity according to their own learning style.