Science is F.U.N.!

An outreach program designed by Kathryn Beheshti, founder of Just Slough It!

Natalie (left) and Jezebel (right) show off a F.U.N. poster and their enthusiasm for outreach!

Written by Erin Aiello, Ph.D. candidate in the Parker lab.

First: WOW. Kathryn Beheshti has designed an incredible outreach program! Her Science is F.U.N. (For Understanding Nature) program was designed to outreach to underrepresented 6th and 7th grade students. Together with her team of Natalie, Jezebel, Annakate, and I, Kat has undoubtedly made a lasting impact on these students, planting the seeds of curiosity to grow in young minds!

And boy did we make science FUN!

The day started with a sleepy drive from UCSC campus to Lakeview Middle School in Watsonville, CA. The crew packed into Kat’s little Toyota Tacoma and munched on adorable pancakes while discussing everyone’s lack of deodorant and where we can get the best veggie patties.


When we arrived at Lakeview Middle School, we were nervous, and so excited to share our passion for science. We set up in a record 20 minutes, and just as we were putting the finishing touches on our eelgrass bed (complete with plush crabs and sea lettuce), the first group of students came in. Without skipping a beat, Kat welcomed everyone and began her presentation.

Kat (second to left) shares slides about her research

Everyone gave a brief introduction about ourselves; who we are, what we study, why we love science, and what our favorite subject was in Jr. High. Most of us love science because we’re curious about the natural world and we get to work outdoors.

Surprisingly, none of us liked science very much when we were in Jr. high, and that became the perfect lead-in to our lesson that “if you’re not good at science now, you can still be a scientist; and if you don’t like science yet, we’re here to change that”.

Little scientists use quadrats and transect tape to characterize tidal marshes of the Elkhorn Slough!

We set up four stations that Kat had designed. Pictured above is a station where students used quadrats and a transect tape to characterize laminated printouts of a tidal marsh. They counted burrows, assessed vegetative cover within the quadrat area and learned to use common field equipment. At this station, students also counted “trapped crabs” held in pit-fall traps used in the field (tennis ball cans!) and measured their carapace widths, which were laminated cutouts.

Students measure the carapace width of a crab, from “shoulder to shoulder”

At a second station, students were able to work with LIVE CRABS!* They measured the lengths of snail shells and investigated which snails the crabs liked to eat more; large or small snails.

At a third station students again worked with live crabs* We had a stuffed-animal predator, the sea otter, on a stick, which students hovered over crabs, inching closer until the crab raised its pincers in defense. Students then measured the distance between the sea otter and the crab. They repeated this experiment in the dark and found that, in the dark, predators were able to get much closer to a crab before it raised its pincers in defense!

*No crabs were harmed in this experiment. All crabs were collected from and returned to Elkhorn Slough within a 48-hour period.

Students count crab burrows in a printed area of marsh, using a popular field tool: the quadrat

At a fourth station, we played an interactive game called “predator, prey, resource.” This was my station, and a TON of fun. The game play was much like rock paper scissors, but for a rock, we had an otter which eats a crab (scissors), which eats sea lettuce (paper). The sea lettuce’s effect on otters is about as silly as paper smothering rock: the otter takes a nibble and doesn’t like it (because otters don’t eat sea lettuce). This is probably the greatest victory that sea lettuce can have over an animal, so we count it as a win. Things get real when someone draws the otter card, while another someone draws a crab card, because the otter has to chase the crab until it eats (tags) it, or the crab burrows (by tagging the burrow card).

The students filled out data sheets that they took to every station with them. And at the end of the period, students had a chance to draw and write about their experience on a poster that later was hung in their classrooms. All in all, the students had a blast, and learned about science in an interactive and fun way.

Kristen Adams, a teacher at Lakeview Middle School, helped organize this outreach and prepare the students at Lakeview. She ensured that we had plenty of space and support, and brought her lovely students into the classroom to get in on the F.U.N.! Here she is pictured below with the Science is F.U.N. crew.

Rocking our “Just Slough It” shirts, designed and screen-printed by Anya Morrill at UCSC. I got to take mine home!
From left: Erin, Natalie, Kat, Kristen, Jezebel, Annakate.
Affiliations from left: UCSC PhD student, UCSC undergraduate student, UCSC PhD candidate, Lakeview Middle School teacher, UCSC undergraduate, UCSC undergraduate.

Kat Behesti is a Ph.D. candidate in the Raimondi lab at UC Santa Cruz, co-advised by Dr. Pete Raimondi and Kerstin Wasson. She currently studies, in the Elkhorn Slough, the interaction between Salicornia pacifica (pickleweed) and Pachygrapsus crassipes (a native graspid crab) at varying elevations to investigate possible impacts of drowning marshes in the face of sea level rise. Her website, justsloughit.com, is a fun, beautiful, informative and accessible form of public outreach. She shares videos and memoirs from the field as she adventures in the coastal zones of California and France! Kat’s outstanding outreach is a true inspiration to us all.

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