Squids for Kids brings cephalopods to the classroom

Nov. 8, 2010, 2:02 a.m.

Squids for Kids, a growing outreach program run through Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, is teaching good ocean stewardship to kids.

“A lot of kids have eaten seafood but haven’t really thought of what that means,” said Julia Stewart, the program coordinator and a graduate student in biology at Stanford. “To be able to see an animal, touch it and think about it moves towards ocean awareness.”

The program started when William Gilly, a biology professor at Hopkins, gave a lecture and dissection workshop at a science camp in Cambria, Calif., two years ago.

After someone suggested that Humboldt squid be sent to the home institutions of some of the conference attendees, the program took off. The novelty of the Humboldt squid garnered attention through word of mouth, while the website helped promote inquiries from other institutions.

“The teachers were all astounded because they use little squid for dissection,” Gilly said.  “They’re small, mangled, deformed and colorless.” In contrast, Humboldt squid are not just novel to most people, but also “charismatic,” according to Gilly.  Their relatively larger size, and hence larger organ systems, makes them optimal for dissections when compared to other, smaller squid.

The squid is a “novel platform for increased awareness in students about ocean health,” Gilly added. It allows people to “connect with the ocean on a different level,” Stewart said.

Since the program’s inception, any teacher who can use the squid in a “rational way” is eligible to receive one, Gilly said. Thus far, 60 to 75 Humboldt squid have been distributed to elementary, middle and high schools, as well as universities. The squid are either left over from squid collected for research in the Gilly lab or from sport fishing in the area.

With the expansion of the curriculum, the program hopes to expand its target base. By sending 100 squid a year, Gilly speculates they could reach 4,000 students.

“It’s a universal ‘gee whiz, ‘wow’ experience,” Gilly said, for the people of wide-ranging ages and backgrounds who are involved.

The program sends the squid with a dissection guide of the external and internal anatomy geared toward junior-high and older students. The lesson plan is designed for after-school programs or for incorporation into teachers’ existing lesson plans.

Stewart is now developing a curriculum that can be applicable to any age group so that any desiring teacher may use the lesson.

“I hope to bring it into a bigger picture,” Stewart said. “We can use the squid as a way to talk about conservation and bigger-scale processes and how they relate to the ecosystem.”

To do this, Stewart hopes to include a broad range of topics, including anatomy, physiology, pollution and fishing, that can be expanded depending on the age group.

Currently Squids for Kids is applying for annual grants to pay for shipping costs.

Both Gilly and Stewart said they would like the program to be sustainable in the long term. “But we’re taking it step by step for now,” Stewart said.

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Winter Program

Deadline Extended!