For most of the classes that attended wildlife presentations this week, we began and ended by asking them a series of questions. (Some groups were too young to understand how to do a survey by a show of hands.) Although the survey was designed to be easy at the expense of being super-scientific, it did show that there were areas related to local wildlife that were new to the kids and that they did learn from the presentation. The average number of responses to each question was 166. Here is a summary of the results:
1. Have there always been animals on St. Martin? Before the presentation, only 22% said the correct answer (which is no, because there were no animals on the island when it first rose above sea level). After the presentation, 74% answered correctly.
2. Do some kinds of animals live on St. Martin for only part of the year? Before, only 56% answered correctly (yes, a number of animals migrate here for part of the year). After, 92% answered correctly.
3. Are there kinds of animals that live only on St. Martin and nowhere else in the world? Before, only 32% answered correctly (yes, there are a number of reptiles and invertebrates that are endemic to St. Martin). After, 94% answered correctly.
4. Are there kinds of animals that live on St. Martin now that didn’t live here a few years ago? Before, 82% answered correctly (yes, there are many recently introduced species). After, 95% answered correctly.
These questions reflect many of the most important aspects of the island’s natural heritage: that it was devoid of life and colonized over time by many animals, that adaptation in isolation led to the evolution of new species that exist nowhere else, that migratory animals connect our island with the rest of the hemisphere, and that one of the most important impacts of humans is the introduction of new species. In many cases, these concepts were not yet familiar to the students, at least not in relation to the island on which they live. (This is not a criticism of the existing curriculum. Presumably these concepts are taught, but why not learn early on why life on St. Martin is special?)
I think it is also worth pointing out that the youngest group to answer these questions was fourth grade, and it was an informal survey, so it is not so surprising that some students would get the wrong answer or answer “I don’t know” to some of these questions even right after learning the answers. All students in grade 6 and above answered all the questions correctly after the presentation.