Policy / Science / Science and Communication / Travel

#SciREN– Marine Scientists and Educators of North Carolina Join Forces

If you follow us on Twitter, you have probably seen lots of content about #SciREN. If you weren’t at the workshop, let me tell you how it works. Marine scientists from North Carolina submitted lesson plans to the workshop and then met up at North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (a great venue, by the way, go check it out) to present these lesson plan ideas to local K-12 educators. The workshop is organized by a collaborative group of students from the Duke Marine Lab and UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences (Crazy, I know!). Best of all, this workshop is TOTALLY FREE to all participating students, scientists, and educators! The workshop allows graduate students an opportunity to learn how to communicate aspects of their research in a new way and to a new audience, and it allows local educators to get knew lesson plan ideas that are based on actual data or concepts used by researchers.

A crowd of scientists gathers for free pizza before the event

A crowd of scientists gathers for free pizza before the event

It was great to see scientists communicating with one another and with local educators and community members. Bringing science to the people and educating the next generation of scientists are two of the most important aspects of our work, and frankly, we don’t see either of them happening enough.

SciREN is a two way street. Scientists share research with teachers and teachers give feedback to scientists. There was much discussion about what was appropriate for a particular grade level as well as how to alter a lesson plan to fit with curriculum standards or new grade levels. Luckily, many of the scientists who were present were able to attend a lesson planning workshop before the event. In this workshop, teachers discussed North Carolina education standards and gave feedback on lesson plans so that the scientists had time to prepare a new and improved plan in time for SciREN. This event is great and I had a ton of fun nerdy out with other marine science enthusiasts.

Research presentations ranged from ocean acidification to marine protected areas, microbial ecology, and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). One of the first groups that caught my eye was the North Carolina Maritime Museum. The museum brought a fully articulated skeleton of a bottlenose dolphin (a victim of a stranding event), so it was hard to miss them. They also brought a group of very excited local volunteers to talk to us all about strandings, whales, dolphins, the museum itself, and some of the educational programs it provides.

Haters gonna hate, but I love dolphins and this was super cool!

Haters gonna hate, but I love dolphins and this was super cool!

The maritime museum is part of the marine mammal stranding network and has a really cool bottlenose dolphin ID program. Check out their website (linked above) for more info on that. In addition to the dolphin skeleton, they also have a full sperm whale skeleton on display at the museum. They are partners in the national fishing line recycling program as well.

These things are everywhere. Recycle your fishing line!

These things are everywhere. Recycle your fishing line!

The museum also has travelling educational trunks that cater to both 4th and 8th grade classrooms. They are available for use with grades 3-9 and are free (you pay shipping if you need it). They include visual aids and currciula based on reacreational fishing.

I also ran into fellow science blogger and twitter celeb Chuck Bangley (@spinydag). Chuck is a phd student at ECU and he presented a lesson plan about shark tag data aimed at high school students. He blogs for Southern Fried Science, which is awesome, so go check it out and follow them on Twitter. His page can be found here, complete with all of the teaching resources you could want to teach his lesson. He also wrote his own blurb about his presentation, so I will let you read that for more info, because he knows more about sharks than I do.

Now that I have mentioned Duke, UNC, and ECU, I certainly can’t leave out UNC-Wilmington can I? Micah Marty (@micahjmarty), Inga Conti-Jerpe, and Clark Marino from the Pawlik Lab (@pawliklab) at UNCW had a table in front of aquariums longest and most impressive tank.

These guys were swimming around behind them

These guys were swimming around behind them

The Pawlik lab does some really cool reef related work (focus on sponges), so I was excited to see what these guys had put together. They made a board game that aimed to teach about evolutionary principles. The table was busy when I approached so I wasn’t able to snag any of their handouts, but if you want to learn more, just check them out on twitter or the lab website. They said that the workshop was a great reality check for scientists. It allowed them to step outside of their narrow scope and see from a different perspective. When you get as wrapped up as graduate students get in one topic it is important to remember to take a step back when trying to educate. What does the public (or in this case, a high school student) know about my topic? Learning to simplify was something that they all mentioned. Their board game was really the first attempt that they made to convert research into education and I got the feeling that they already had many ideas on how to streamline it and make it more useable in the classroom. They also mentioned that they found great value in learning what tools teachers needed, what the education standards were, and then thinking about how to meet those standards using their research or expertise. Not only were they super nice and willing to talk with me about their project and thoughts, but they also were quite supportive of science blogging and outreach.

Alright, the focus thus far has been on biological sciences almost exclusively, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the coolest demo at the workshop (which was actually a physical science demo). The Rossman lab  from UNC IMS came prepared for a crowd awing demo about ocean stratification and mixing. They brought a simulated ocean and used three different densities of colored water masses to make it stratify.

Iphone pictures don't do it justice. It was awesome!

Iphone pictures don’t do it justice. It was awesome!

For an encore, they turned on a fan to simulate wind and showed mixing and turnover. They used this demo to talk about anoxia and fishkills in the Neuse River (a major aspect of their research). I tried to take a video of all of this, but the room become so packed full of educators that I couldn’t see the tank anymore. The crowd was chattering about how cool it was and discussing how to scale down the demo to use in the classroom. I talked with a few teachers who said they did a similar demo in a beaker using oil, water, and corn syrup (or similar products of varying density).

There were even some lesson plans aimed at teaching about marine microbes. This is a difficult subject to teach because the organisms in question are microscopic so I was interested to see how the topic would be tackled. Tara Essock-Burns and Charmaine Yung form Duke Marine Lab (veterans of last year’s SciREN) came prepared. They said that they really learned a lot from the pre-workship lesson planning night and were able to provide an entirely new lesson plan as a result of discussion with teachers at that planning event. Teachers were asking for a high school level microbe lesson, one that touched on genetics. The two grad students already had a great lesson on microbes that would work for almost any age group. Students made agar material in a petri dish and then swabbed whatever they wanted, inoculated the media, and watched the microbed grow. It is a relatively simple and interesting interactive lab. Teachers liked that, but they wanted something more advanced. To meet that demand, Tara, Charmaine, and colleagues at Duke came up with a computer based lab that allowed students to explore mircobial sampling, decoding sequences, and interpreting community structure of microbes all while learning to use Excel, NCBI databases, Google Scholar, and Powerpoint. It is a great lab. If you want more information you can contact Chris Ward at Duke (christopher.ward at duke.edu) for more info.

In summary, it was a great event. Special shout out to Avery Paxton (@ABPaxton), Justin Ridge, SpinnerHeather,  Alyse Larkin, Kerry Irish, and the awesome team at the aquarium (@NCAquariumatPNS) for putting the conference together.

Bonus photo time:

UNC Visiting Scholar Travis Courtney "making ocean chemistry awesome" as one teacher said.

UNC Visiting Scholar Travis Courtney “making ocean chemistry awesome” as one teacher said.

A super cool gar

A super cool gar

If anyone wants any additional information about the workshop or any lesson plans, feel free to contact me and I will direct you to the right place.

One thought on “#SciREN– Marine Scientists and Educators of North Carolina Join Forces

  1. Pingback: SciREN Triangle 2014– Inaugural scientist/ educator networking event in Raleigh, NC | UNder the C

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