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Education students get hands-on experience with sea turtles along Georgia’s coast Click here…

Georgia (Oct 24, 2013)

Education students get hands-on experience with sea turtles along Georgia’s coast

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KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 23, 2013) -- Beautiful white sand beaches. A gently rolling surf. A cool island breeze. These may be the things dream vacations are made of, but for four Bagwell College of Education students, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia was a place of serious science, not suntans and Mai Tais.

This summer, the early childhood education majors participated in the Caretta Research Project, a collaborative project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

Savannah Coastal Refuges, which monitors loggerhead sea turtles (also known as Caretta caretta) and protects their nests on Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-minute boat ride from Savannah, Ga.

Led by BCOE professor Terri Collins, the students spent seven days on Wassaw Island, heading to the beach at 9 p.m. and patrolling for nesting turtles until dawn.

“This is not a vacation,” Collins said on the island. “These students are staying up all night, sleeping in an un-air conditioned cabin with no electricity and taking cold showers – outside!”

For 16 weeks each summer, six volunteers at a time help monitor egglaying and hatching activity and collect data on the loggerhead sea turtles. Once a female comes ashore to lay her eggs, the volunteers wait until the turtle has dug her nest before approaching either to tag or identify her, and take a biopsy and several measurements, as well as gather one egg for research purposes.

“I have been coming here for quite a few years on my own, and I would always do a presentation with my class when we talk about the barrier islands and regions in Georgia, and it became very obvious to me they had very little experience with what was here in our state and how this threatened species is actually monitored and taken care of,” Collins said. “All too often, science teachers have to teach, especially elementary teachers, based on what is in the textbook and not based on experience.”

There is no textbook that can replicate the feeling of catching the white pingpong-ball-shaped eggs as the turtle deposits them in a nest that has to be relocated because of the threat of a rising tide. Loggerhead turtles lay upwards of 120 eggs at a time, and unlike the hard shell of a chicken’s egg, the turtle eggs are soft and yielding.

“It’s not as nasty as you think it would be,” said senior Brooke Elsner, as she caught the warm, gooey eggs and placed them on the sand next to her. “It just smells a little fishy.”

Using a giant, heart-shaped cockleshell, senior Kimberly Cannon dug a new, light-bulb-shaped hole behind the beach wrack – piles of seaweed, other plants and animal remains that are washed ashore and usually mark the high tide line – for the relocated eggs.

“I knew I had to teach science, and I was OK with that, but now I’m excited to teach science,” the former Paulding County school bus driver said. “I’m ready to be a science teacher, and I wouldn’t have been without Professor Collins or this experience.”

Funded this year with $7,000 from the ATOMS (Advancing the Teaching of Mathematics and Science) Center in the College of Science and Mathematics, each of the students is responsible for creating a “scientific research, reading and writing assignment,” aligned with the Common Core performance standards for early childhood education. The students will also be presenting their projects to the Georgia Science Teachers Association.

The published works include timelines, journal notes, photographs, glossaries, tables for correlations of data and fact gathering. The teacher’s published information will serve both as a teacher’s instructional tool, and a student research reference. The goal is to enable students to recognize and access real-world opportunities for learning as they work through the Loggerhead materials and to reference the information as evidence to support their information based discussions, reading, and writing projects.

“I think Dr. (Adrian) Epps (assistant dean of the College of Science and Mathematics) truly understands the importance of educating teachers in the real world,” Collins said. “My standard line for this is you would never hire somebody to wire your house when all they’ve done is read a book about it, so why would you want somebody to teach your children about science if all they’ve ever done is read a book.”

Kris Williams, the longtime project and research director of the Caretta Research Project, said volunteers like those from Kennesaw State University are the lifeblood of the project.

“We need help to collect all the necessary data and protect the turtles,” she said. “Plus, once the volunteers get this experience, they’re really ambassadors for the turtles.”

And, the turtles have no bigger fan than Collins. “You go up and down the halls in a lot of elementary schools, and you’ll see polar bears and penguins on the walls,” she said. “And polar bears and penguins are cute and fine, but we have these magnificent creatures right in our own backyard, and I think it’s important to learn about what we have here in Georgia.”

-- Jennifer Hafer


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit