LabVenture!: Complex Systems

From the water cycle to our digestive tract to photosynthesis, our world is composed of systems. Scientists use modeling to better understand how these systems work. Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) have been researching how key species within the Gulf of Maine are connected through systems such as the food web, behavior patterns, and industry.

Complex Systems is GMRI’s third LabVenture! program. This program is available at no cost to Maine’s 5th and 6th grade students. Students will explore the fundamentals of inherently complex systems, relating these concepts to the Gulf of Maine ecosystem. Students will see people as part of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and learn that systems can be studied and better-understood through the use of scientific models.

Students will work in peer teams to conduct four investigations:

  • How are cod and lobster connected in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem? Students will dive deeper than typical predator-prey exploration and explore how behavior changes can affect competition for food, shelter, and resulting changes in growth and fecundity.

  • Are we farming lobsters? Taking on the role of marine ecologist, students will collect data from live lobsters to determine if the use of herring for lobster bait has impacted the growth rate of lobsters.

  • How are fishermen and scientists collaborating towards fisheries sustainability? In the role of fishermen, students experiment with different fishing gear technologies to maximize fuel and catch efficiency to make money while sustaining their ground fish resource.

  • What impacts will climate change have on the Gulf of Maine ecosystem? Using models, students will research the impacts a warmer Gulf of Maine may have on copepods, a key prey species, and in turn, the ecosystem as a whole.

Throughout their investigations, students will be considering, “How are cod, lobster, herring, and humans connected in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem?” They will be using the evidence they collect throughout their investigations to build a systems-model that represents these connections. Students will use their models and apply their new knowledge and skills in a large group discussion exploring and answering “what if” questions such as:

  • What might happen to lobsters, cod, and/or herring if the temperature in the Gulf of Maine rises or falls by 3°F?

  • How might fishermen change their behavior if the price of fuel sky-rockets?

  • What might happen to herring and lobster populations if cod return in large numbers to the Gulf of Maine?

All of the data students collect will be made available to them via personal, password-protected websites for sharing, reflecting, and use in their classrooms or at home. 

Teachers can continue explorations of complex systems through reading blog entries about the Gulf of Maine ecosystem, utilizing our classroom resources which include pre- and post- visit activities and curriculum.

What is the LabVenture! experience like for teachers?

We haven’t forgotten about you! You’ll have the opportunity to:

  • see your students working in a new learning environment AND collect data about your observations,

  • collaborate alongside your students, using reflection, modeling, and discussion techniques that you can bring back to your classroom,

  • dive deeper into the process and content that have inspired LabVenture! and Complex Systems, and

  • share with us how LabVenture! and GMRI education programs have inspired you.