Communicating Observing Systems Science… formally or informally?

This week the Rutgers component of COSEE NOW was pleased to have two of our colleagues from COSEE CA visit to discuss a NOAA funded project to create an ocean science curriculum for grades 3-5. It is especially exciting because the product will be carefully sequenced to the ocean literacy principles and will be commercially produced by Carolina Biological. It was a very productive two days of discussion and exchange between scientists, Drs. Josh Kohut (oceanographer) and John Manderson (biologist) about everything from layers in the ocean to food webs to human interactions and effects on the marine ecosystem.

In addition to all that, I had a unique opportunity to talk with the best curriculum writers I know about the dilemma of how to engage youth in science in authentic ocean science topics. I thought I would share what I learned since I think it is relevant to what we as OOS educators, who as in my last post I said are expected to “know it all” in terms of interacting with every kind of audience imaginable using OOS data.

In formal school settings, we have control of the time we spend and can take the time to explicitly develop the concepts we want to engage the students in learning. We can take the time to develop these concepts and if we are lucky show them how scientists think and analyze data and draw conclusions from that data. This is especially exciting when you think about applying real time data from ocean observing systems in the lesson and conveying the notion to the students that scientists are exploring the data in parallel to them in the classroom.

The Rutgers team which includes our colleagues from the Graduate School of Education has been working to engage kids in constructing models and revising their thinking as they construct knowledge on ocean science themes. Our design team includes ocean scientists and visualization data specialists, science education researchers, teachers, and a supporting technical staff of graphic artists and programmers. The team meets weekly to develop extended inquiry units for the web-based environment. You can check out our work in progress in the COOL Classroom.

On the contrary, in an informal setting, it is much more important to focus on engaging the “youth” (notice I did not say students) in the interesting aspects of the science and provide the opportunity to tinker and experiment with scientific information. Science programs such as in an after school program are short (usually less then an hour) and may be lead by a youth development professional with little or no science teaching training. Facilitators must think about how to convey concepts without group discussion, worksheets or intensive reflection. COSEE NOW is working on developing these kinds of informal science programs for our informal partner, Liberty Science Center. We will be posting some of the lessons and works in progress in the coming weeks for comment and review by COSEE NOW members.

So, is it possible to develop materials that can be repurposed for both informal and formal settings? Tell us what you think. I will be reporting back on our progress here at COSEE NOW in future posts.

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