Educator Spotlight: Teaching the “Big Ideas” of Science

Kerryane Monahan, this week’s Educator of the Week, is passionate about teaching the big ideas of science alongside the nitty-gritty ones. She wants her students to understand science from a global perspective, identifying international connections in problems and solutions. Kerryane is an environmental science and biology teacher at Saint Edward’s School in Vero Beach, Florida. You started your career as an academic. How did you … Continue reading Educator Spotlight: Teaching the “Big Ideas” of Science

The High-Adventure Science Collection

By Elaine Larson What do fresh water availability, climate change, the future of energy, air quality, land management, and the search for life in space have in common? They are all topics investigated through a comprehensive new collection of online lessons for middle and high school Earth and environmental science classrooms, developed with funding from NSF and in partnership with The Concord Consortium, a prominent … Continue reading The High-Adventure Science Collection

Can A Seagull Educate People?

My brother and I are always on the lookout for superheroes who can help us bring environmental and animal conservation education to more youth around the world. Along the way, we met an amazing author and ocean advocate by the name of Goffinet McLaren, who is originally from Ireland. We managed to catch up with Mrs. Goffinet recently and I asked her to share her … Continue reading Can A Seagull Educate People?

Buoys and Bots: Great Teachers Motivate Students Through Hands-on Learning

Doug Levin is the Associate Director for the Center for
Environment and Society at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland,
and is an expert in underwater exploration technology, as well as
designing fun programs that teach complex engineering concepts.

kids playing.pngKindergarteners building buoys as part of Build-a-Buoy (Photograph used with permission of the children’s parents)

It’s pretty interesting how we remember the teachers who make a mark on us. Mine was Les Marinoff, who was the lead nature counselor at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts. I was his assistant at that camp in the summer of 1976.  The first day of class he said, “Let’s go”…and took us on a hike through the woods behind the nature center. He proceeded to show us things in nature that we could eat safely.  I learned more from that quick hour than I had in the entire previous semester of college science. I saw firsthand that experiential learning made a lasting impression, and that became the teaching model I’d bring forth in my future career. 

In an early experience during my junior year of college at Fairleigh Dickinson, I volunteered at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey. I was tasked with developing lesson plans for a new saltwater aquarium.  I designed, and they built, a platform that allowed “vertically challenged” school-age kids to climb up and reach into the waters to touch the crabs, clams, and snails that were living there.  They always left with wet sleeves, big smiles, and a healthy knowledge of the biota they had just had a close encounter with.

Once I began my career as a professional marine scientist, I kept an eye out for teachable opportunities.  I was the first science professor to be hired at Bryant College (now Bryant University) in two decades when I joined the faculty in 1990. Bryant College was a business specialty school. There was very little interest in attending science courses. My role in that school was to change that idea, and I did.

I brought in STEM education before it was known as STEM. We mapped the campus pond with echo sounders, sampled the sediment with sonar devices, and built a remote-controlled boat that took pond water samples and analyzed the contents while moving about.  Through these projects, business students analyzed underwater imagery collected in a local reservoir with sound waves using side scan sonar. In short order, we had students knocking down the doors of our science department because they heard they could “learn while doing.”  My faculty developed the first science minors for the school in Biotechnology and Environmental Science, both to support the school’s primary mission as a business specialty school. We had a blast, the students had a blast, and nearly fifteen years after leaving that post I still hear from those students.

Continue reading “Buoys and Bots: Great Teachers Motivate Students Through Hands-on Learning”