We are now halfway through our spring semester and we have settled into a good routine at the Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies (TIBS) in Panama. The students have the lay of the land now and they are becoming more and more aware of their surroundings and confident in their assertions.

More importantly, they are increasingly taking charge of their own learning. This was evident with the development of what has now become known as ‘touch-tank Tuesdays’. This gives the students the opportunity to explore the seagrass beds in front of our center and collect different marine critters. We place them into a tank with an aerator, and can spend some time learning about what we have found. We discuss each species, its key taxonomic features and ecological importance. Not to mention that the best way to understand how an echinoderm moves is to feel an urchin crawl across your hands. Opportunities and activities like this are examples of how the marine world can become accessible, and they support a deeper level of learning than can be obtained through being lectured in a classroom, looking at pictures or watching YouTube videos (however amusing they may be).

This week, the students collected an array of species, from juvenile Queen Conch and collector urchins to sea cucumbers and crabs. They were even presented with the special opportunity to watch a hermit crab select a new shell and move from one to the other, something we humans are not often privy to. The students are also taking it upon themselves to keep a log of the organisms we collect each week, so that we can learn more about the habitat just outside our back door. There are already discussions of next week’s ‘touch-tank Tuesday’ and what we might be lucky enough to find. That is one of the things I find most unique and exciting about teaching at SFS: when the sea is your classroom, learning opportunities are limitless.

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