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Student Questions Lead to Classroom Collaboration at Horizon Elementary

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Students in Mrs. Gowan’s STEM class applied the engineering design process to create a model of a prosthetic tail for a dolphin. This idea was constructed from an actual scenario of a dolphin that was housed at Clearwater Marine Museum in Clearwater, Florida. Winter, lost her tail after becoming entangled in a crab trap line. She was rescued and was fitted with a prosthetic tail.

After the students learned about Winter the dolphin and her prosthetic tail, the students heard about "Jawlene" an alligator who was missing the top half of her jaw. Jawlene was recently rescued from a Florida lake just north of Orlando and taken to Gatorland where she is being cared for.

The students became excited and wanted to know more about Jawlene. They began to propose many ideas focused on a possible prosthetic for the little alligator. Students asked Mrs. Gowan to contact Gatorland to ask if they would meet with them via a web call.

Meanwhile, the fourth grade classroom teachers at Horizon were working on an animal adaptation unit in science class. This was the perfect opportunity for collaboration. Ms. Meyer, Ms. Hulvey, Ms. Chance, and Mr. Durham worked together with Mrs. Gowan to facilitate a virtual meeting with Mr. Mark McHugh, Chief Executive Officer at Gatorland.

On October 25th the fourth grade students met virtually with Mr. McHugh and proposed questions based on content they had learned in both their classroom science lessons and their STEM class activities. Mr. McHugh patiently answered all their questions about Jawlene. He also shared his career pathway story with the students including how he meshed his degrees in marine biology and business administration to create fun and educational experiences at Gatorland.

Meeting with the professionals at Gatorland provided relevant connections between the engineering design process in STEM class and exploring animal adaptations in science class. One news story about an impaired alligator led Horizon’s students to question and four astute teachers collaborated on connecting these questions to an amazing opportunity to extend student learning globally.


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