Educator Spotlight: Uncovering an Ecological Mystery

Stefanie Frump challenged her high school students to consider what would happen if Tampa Bay’s blue crabs disappeared. Groups of students took on the perspectives of different stakeholders, presented possible solutions, and considered each other’s needs and ideas while developing a compromise.

Stefanie Frump
Stefanie Frump teaches biology and marine science to 11th- and 12th-graders at Largo High School in Largo, Florida. Photo courtesy Stefanie Frump

What inspired you to have your students investigate a scenario in which blue crabs disappeared from Tampa Bay?

A few years ago, the local bait shop that always donated blue crabs to me for dissections told me they “couldn’t find them.” I got the same answer from other bait shops and even a biological supply company. It got me thinking about what could have happened to the blue crabs. My National Geographic Educator Certification capstone project grew out of that curiosity.

Blue crab dissection
Students dissected blue crabs to learn about the species. Photo by Stefanie Frump

How did you guide students as they explored the potential causes of and solutions for a blue crab disappearance? 

To gain background knowledge, students completed one-pagers on arthropods and dissected blue crabs (which were available again!). They also read a chapter in Ocean’s End, a book by Colin Woodard that focused on the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery. This case study got my students thinking about interest groups, fisheries management, and the tragedy of the commons.

Then, I randomly divided the class into interest groups (as in this National Geographic activity): recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, restaurant owners, environmentalists, biologists, and a biological supply company. Focusing on the needs and ideas of that particular group, students developed solutions to the blue crab disappearance to present at our “Blue Crab Summit.”

Students did not all agree with the perspective they were asked to defend, but they ultimately came to understand where certain interest groups were coming from and have a greater appreciation for the process involved in protecting species.

Arthropod one-pagers
Students created one-pagers to share their newfound knowledge of anthropods. Photo by Stefanie Frump

Tell us a little about the Blue Crab Summit, during which each group presented their proposed solutions. How did groups’ ideas for solutions evolve based on the presentations? 

While each interest group presented, the others recorded the solutions given. After the presentation, each group had to discuss the solutions and determine which ones they could and could not work with, based on their perspective. They also received questions from the other groups and responded by clarifying or defending their viewpoint. Finally, each group reviewed all the solutions presented and created a new solution that served as a compromise while still staying true to their point of view. In the end, the new solutions ended up being very similar between groups and showed a better understanding of how listening to others and working together can be beneficial in problem-solving.

Poster for summit
Students presented their interest group’s perspective and ideas for supporting the blue crab population in Tampa Bay. Photo by Stefanie Frump

How did this project connect to your mission as a teacher?

My mission as a teacher has always been to connect what students are learning to the real world, so that they understand and value it. In this project, students came to realize that all of the interest groups actually wanted the same thing: an increase in blue crab populations. The conflict came from how this should be accomplished.

Isn’t this the case with most things going on in the world today? No one wants others to suffer or lack basic needs. No one wants the environment to end up in a state of disrepair. These issues rarely have simple solutions and instead involve compromises between groups.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

What inspired you to become a teacher, and how do your previous experiences inform your work?

I have a passion for fisheries management from my time working at the Ocean Conservancy, and I developed a love of science education through working in the education department at the Florida Aquarium. I wanted the opportunity to build relationships with students rather than seeing student groups for short periods of time, so I left to teach at Campbell Park Elementary, a marine science attractor school where I got to spend every day doing marine science lab activities with K-5.

There was no curriculum, so I had to develop every lesson for every grade level over the course of the school year. I believe that experience made me the high school teacher I am today. It molded me into a teacher who uses experiences and activities, rather than textbooks, to teach real-world concepts.


This interview has been edited and condensed.


Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.


Leave a Reply