Classroom@Sea: bringing real marine science into the classroom
Submitted by sis on 04 December 2007
With our oceans coming under increasing pressure from human activities, there has never been a more urgent need to understand the marine environment and how it works. This applies not only to scientists and policy makers, but also to the general public and, perhaps most importantly, to the marine scientists of the future – school children. Classroom@Sea is a novel outreach initiative designed to bring cutting-edge marine science into classrooms across Europe. Based around real scientific expeditions on research ships, Classroom@Sea engages teachers and pupils in the journey from scientific hypothesis to investigation, discovery, analysis and interpretation.
With global change now a high priority in European research, it is essential that school children and the general public are not only aware of the issues threatening our oceans today, but also engaged in the research so that they understand the processes by which scientists obtain their results. This is particularly important now, when so many important policy decisions are being taken that will affect their future enjoyment and use of our oceans.
Understanding how our oceans work is fundamental to ensuring that future generations have the tools to manage, conserve and enjoy the oceans responsibly.
From its conception in 2003, the project’s aim has always been to enthuse and inspire school children by sharing the journey of scientific exploration and discovery. And what better way to do this than by recruiting schoolteachers to join the scientific team on board the ship? There are many scientists who are excellent at communicating their research to the wider public. However, teachers are ideally qualified and placed not only to share the excitement of being at sea on a scientific expedition, but also to communicate the ideas, concepts and theories in a format appropriate to our target audience: school pupils. Teachers’ understanding of the curriculum means that they are able to apply their experiences on board the ship to aspects of their teaching where they would otherwise rely on standard demonstrations or examples. Many of the basic scientific principles taught to 11- to 16-year-olds can be demonstrated using the marine realm as an example; indeed, finding new and innovative ways to present concepts and theories provides an invigorating and rewarding experience for teachers and pupils alike. Life on a research ship is a unique experience and, we feel, best communicated to the outside world through the eyes of someone who is experiencing it for the first time.
Once at sea, the teachers composed daily ‘blogs’ of their experiences for the Classroom@Sea website, relating tales of the trials and tribulations, anticipation, successes and occasional disappointments that are an integral part of a scientific expedition. Online feature articles on the roles of crew members and the scientific team, and how the ship’s cook caters for the masses without a supermarket nearby, a video tour of the ship and ROV video footage of a shipwreck served to draw in even the most non-scientifically minded pupil in the audience.
When faced with the need to explain their research at its most basic level, scientists must often view problems from new and unexpected angles. Teacher Gillian McGahan, who participated in the first leg of the cruise (the Gulf of Cadiz, 14 May – 2 June 2007), says, “As a teacher it is probably the best professional development I could have had. This experience has made me think of new ways to approach the curriculum. I have been given so much interesting support material and made aware of many resources that have been developed to enable us to teach science through oceanography, and I hope to be able to encourage colleagues to use this to develop their teaching as well. I feel that I now have a much better and deeper understanding of biodiversity along the European margin and I am really looking forward to sharing this with my pupils.”
Unfortunately, funding is not always available to finance the participation of teachers in NOCS’s expeditions, but if there are no teachers taking part, a small team of shipboard correspondents are recruited from the onboard scientific team. For the most part, these individuals tend to be PhD students or young researchers, many of whom are going to sea for the first time. With communication skills becoming an increasingly valuable and essential asset, the exercise greatly benefits the researchers as well as the audience.
Joining the team
When funding is available to include teachers on the cruises, the places are advertised on the Classroom@Sea websitew1.
w1 – The Classroom@Sea website includes many resources for teachers, such as activities for teaching biology, chemistry, physics and geology/geography. To learn how to demonstrate osmoregulation with a piece of potato or to show how submarines work using lemon peel, see: www.classroomatsea.net
Other useful resources on the website include posters to download, questions from children (and answers), a daily diary written by the teachers involved and plenty more information about oceanography.
Other schools resources from NOCS include:
Oceans4schools web magazine for secondary-school students: www.oceans4schools.com
Ocean Zone magazine: www.noc.soton.ac.uk/nocs/ocean.php