Ross Sea – Teacher Institute

Ross Sea Partners

As educators at Liberty Science Center, Kate Florio and I (Katie Gardner) have had a close working relationship with Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Studies for several years.  In the fall of 2009 we learned of a new joint project to bring classroom educators and research scientists together around an exciting upcoming mission.  Scientists from Rutgers University, University of Hawaii, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute had received funding to conduct a research study on some important climate connections in the Ross Sea of Antarctica.  As part of this mission, they had proposed to share their work with classroom teachers in a unique way: through first training educators in their science, and then making themselves available to talk directly to students while they are on location in Antarctica.  As Liberty Science Center’s ocean science experts, we were paired with Warren Marchioni in Teacher Programs to design and implement this proposal.  We would begin with a week-long teacher institute, and continue through the school year by helping connect classrooms to the research happening on location.  The first thing we needed to do was provide lessons and resources to help teachers connect their curriculum to the Ross Sea Mission.

Early in our planning, we decided to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of research science, as well as incorporate the communications involved in sharing science.  The mission would be taking professional photographer Chris Linder, and we knew they planned to invite a science journalist, so we invited Chris to be a part of our teacher institute.  We also reached out to Ari Daniel Shapiro, an independent producer and podcaster who has a lot of experience telling science stories.  Both agreed to talk about how they communicate science through pictures and/or stories to engage people in the scientific enterprise.

As we began to outline the week and science topics we wanted to cover, we realized that few of the ocean science lessons we regularly used with students at Liberty Science Center would directly relate to the Ross Sea science.  We needed to design new lessons with hands on experiments that would be appropriate for middle and high school students while teaching complex topics such as limiting nutrients and the carbon pump.  Our fellow Liberty Science Center educators were happy to “embrace their inner children” and try out our new lessons, helping us refine our topics and activities.  Even as teachers were starting to sign up for the institute, we were planning and re-planning how the days of that week would run.  After many iterations of lessons and schedules, the institute began to take shape!

By June we were into working out the fine details, such as what materials did we need? What would best enable our teachers to present these lessons to their students?   By July we had finalized our institute roster: 25 teachers from throughout the NY/NJ region from a wide variety of schools; public and private, high school and middle school.  We even had one teacher coming all the way from California.  Since we planned to use a lot of technology, there was a lot of work involved in making sure all our systems were up to date and ready for use.  Time seemed to be speeding up as the date for the institute approached.  The week before was a flurry of staging materials, photocopying lessons, checking technology, and making all final arrangements with our many partners.

I know the weekend before our August 9-13th institute was a long wait of anticipation.  It was hard not to wonder if we were ready, or if we had forgotten anything.  Would we successfully be able to connect scientists and educators to the Ross Sea Mission for the duration of the research?  To add to the worries, as we were finishing the setup of our classroom Monday morning, the fire alarm went off, and we had to evacuate.  My first introduction to some of our teachers was standing in the parking lot waiting for the all clear. Fortunately, it was a false alarm.

Josh Kohut and Adam Kustka joined us on Monday morning to meet the teachers, explain exactly what they envisioned for the Ross Sea Mission, and give some background on the science that would be done.  Over the next day and a half, Kate, Warren, and I set to work turning that science background into specific lessons that could be taught to students on water properties affecting density, buoyancy, phytoplankton, nutrient limitations, and the carbon pump, among others.  During the first two days, we didn’t do much that would distinguish us from any other teacher professional development sessions; but then came Wednesday.

Wednesday was devoted to communicating science.  In the morning Chris Linder, Ari Daniel Shapiro, and Sage Lichtenwalner spoke about using photographs, audio, and data sets to communicate ideas, and then how to bring it all together in one story.  In the afternoon they provided support as the teachers practiced creating multimedia presentations of their own.  The results were very creative and I look forward to seeing what their students may produce.

I believe this project really came together on Thursday, when we all met at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Studies at Rutgers University.  This day it felt like we were all integral parts of the Ross Sea Mission, and our participation was important to the success of the research.  I know I wished we’d had more time in the labs, and to speak with all the mission scientists, even those who could not be there in person.  We used the same webinar technology with Chris Measures in Hawaii, and Phoebe Lamb in Massachusetts, that we plan to use in January and February 2011 to connect to Antarctica.  The teachers not only got to virtually meet the other mission scientists and learn about their specific research within the expedition, they also got a taste of what their students will experience once the mission is underway.

The last day of the workshop was spent in planning for the school year ahead.  For the summer, we’d successfully connected the teachers to the mission.  Can we keep it going through the school year?  January is still a long time away.

Interested in seeing photos from the Teacher Institute? Visit the COSEE NOW Flickr site:

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About Katie Gardner

Katie Gardner, Teacher Programs Developer at Liberty Science Center is a geologist, and oceanographer. She is passionate about Earth, gaining interest in sharing that enthusiasm as an NSF GK-12 graduate fellow. She holds a B.S. in geology from Florida State University, attended the University of South Florida, for master’s work in oceanography, and holds a M.Ed. from Lesley University in STEM education. Katie has taught thousands of students and dozens of teachers across all disciplines of science in a variety of different formats. She develops exciting lessons and presentations for many different audiences. She co-taught COSIA, a science communications course at Rutgers University focused on providing science students with the skills to share their science with general audiences. She has also provided professional development in communication techniques and educational pedagogy to informal educators. She is currently involved in engineering and computer science education, as well as sharing techniques for integrating technology and data usage into classrooms.

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