Hands-on Investigations of Bay Organism Adaptations

By Alix Martin

If I told you crabs had “whiskers” similar to dogs and cats, would you believe me? Setae, or hair-like fine projections used by crabs to sense the environment around them, were just one of the exciting animal adaptations that students from Michelle Obama and Fairmont Elementary schools learned about during their Bay Organisms Investigation lesson with KIDS for the BAY. 

During these engaging science lessons, KIDS for the BAY Educator Alix Martin came to each class with a very special set of teaching supplies! Lesson concepts involved bay organism adaptations and food chains, and students dived into some exciting hands-on investigations! Fourth grade scientists at Michelle Obama School in Richmond and third grade scientists at Fairmont Elementary in El Cerrito had the opportunity to closely study seaweed, striped bass fish, and Dungeness crabs by using their senses, asking and answering questions, and recording their observations. 

To connect with prior knowledge and experiences, students first discussed the adaptations that their favorite animals have. Fourth grader Adrian was excited to share, “Axolotls can regrow body parts, even their brain!” Isaac talked about rattlesnakes moving their bodies in a special way to protect themselves from the hot sand. Addie shared that the lynx has wide paws for walking on snow, like snowshoes, and Felix shared that pangolins have the adaptation of tough skin to keep them protected from predators. Aria explained, “An adaptation is like a special skill that helps an organism survive in its habitat.” 

Time to investigate seaweed samples! Students used their senses to make observations of dried red algae (nori) and rehydrated bull kelp. “The seaweed has thin layers!” exclaimed Adrian. “When you dry the seaweed, it becomes tougher and harder to rip!” shared Amir. 

Students were eager to talk about food webs and food chains, using examples from our California coastal waters. Alexis explained, “Sea otters are important because if they don’t eat sea urchins, the urchins will eat all the kelp.” Ms. Alix shared a chart that illustrated how this imbalance in the food chain would affect the entire kelp forest ecosystem.

A highlight of the day was when Ms. Alix showed the class the fish and crab specimens they would be observing. “Yay!” the students cheered in unison. Students were eager to begin their investigations as respectful and careful scientists when handling the organisms. “I notice the crabs have barnacles,” said Mohammed. He searched around the crab to see how many he could find. “A crab probably uses its pincers as an adaptation to protect itself!” observed Emmanuel. Aria noticed, “The crab must have really bad eyesight if its eyes are so small. That’s probably why it has the bristle-whiskers or setae.” Ms. Alix enjoyed going around to each group, talking to students about how the fish’ gills work, what the crab’s claws might be used for, and the different adaptations each organism had. Students also excitedly figured out many adaptations on their own through their investigations. 

Our young scientists did not want to stop exploring, and left the lesson eager to share what they had learned. “Next time I go fishing with my dad, I can tell him about all these parts of the fish,” exclaimed Alexis. “I had never touched a sea animal before, and this was a great chance to learn about them,” said Christopher. “Thank you for bringing these amazing bay animals to our classroom!”

KIDS for the BAY