Next generation of ocean science explorers fostered by Scripps/Ocean Discovery Program

The wonders of the ocean have fascinated people for centuries. Beyond its captivating sea creatures, rolling waves, and treasures undiscovered, the ocean provides a perfect and readily accessible platform for students to learn about science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM).

Next generation of ocean science explorers

Photo by Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Budget cuts, cramped classrooms, and lack of funding for schools in underserved communities can prevent bright young students from receiving top-notch educations in STEM. With these hurdles in mind, Ocean Discovery Institute in San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have teamed up to develop a sixth-grade curriculum as part of Ocean Science Explorers, a school-based initiative that engages, educates, and inspires young people through hands-on ocean science exploration.

The current collaboration between Scripps and Ocean Discovery evolved in 2013 when a group of biological oceanographers at Scripps received funding from the California Sea Grant Core Research program to study how coastal resources and fisheries respond to ocean deoxygenation and acidification

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“As our world is changing, it is quite obvious that we will need world-class scientists from all socio-economic sectors, especially those sectors that will be hit hardest—the poor,” said Navarro. “Programs like Ocean Discovery will help make sure that talented youngsters get that opportunity even if they are from areas traditionally without strong science-education resources.”

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Throughout the school year, Ocean Discovery instructors meet with each classroom a total of six times. This includes four in-class, hands-on science lessons, an outdoor field experience to reinforce concepts taught in the classroom, and a locally-based environmental service project that empowers students to make a difference in their community.

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Despite the sweltering heat and lack of air-conditioning in the classroom, Behra’s students were attentive and eager to start the day’s science experiment. The daily lesson focused on ocean acidification and students worked in groups to compare the effects of today’s seawater vs. acidic seawater on algae. They soaked pieces of algae in different water samples, measured the before and after weights of the algae, and ultimately came to a conclusion: the acidic water had dissolved some of the algae, decreasing its overall weight.

“It’s better than learning it out of a book!” said Taliyah, age 11, as she recorded algae data in her notebook.

This live demonstration brought home the harmful effects of ocean acidification on valuable coral reefs, a problem greatly related to global climate change and the amount of human-induced CO2 in the atmosphere. “Even a small change can have an effect on living things,” explained Jalyn, 11.

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A Birch Aquarium naturalist showed the budding explorers different types of coral, including some affected by ocean acidification. Touching the coral made the in-class lessons all the more real for Jacky, 13. “I’ve learned so much about coral I never knew before,” she said.

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Through programs such as Ocean Science Explorers, students are given the necessary tools for better understanding and protecting the planet. On average, students achieve a 47 percent increase on objective science tests after participating in the program. This gives Navarro and his colleagues hope for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders.

“We want the next generation to be prepared and confident with their ability to meet the challenges that will occur with climate change,” said Navarro. “We hope that some of them will even delve deeper and go on to college to continue to pursue science. With such amazing scientists here at Scripps, the sky is the limit.”

Read the complete article here.

Brittany Hook, Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego, 4 August 2014. Article.


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