Coral Bleaching Crisis

ENVIRONMENT Scientists are warning that devastating bleaching of colorful coral is becoming a worldwide crisis. (Christian Science Monitor) Use our resources to learn more about coral reefs and the threats they face. Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit. Discussion Ideas Scientists have announced the emergence of a major worldwide coral bleaching event. What is coral bleaching? Read … Continue reading Coral Bleaching Crisis

Science Sees Sea Snot Seeping on the Seafloor

ENVIRONMENT On the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, scientists reveal a newly discovered process that may inspire better cleanup strategies. (Nat Geo News) Use our resources to learn more about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Discussion Ideas The Nat Geo News article details a newly discovered phenomenon called MOSSFA—marine oil snow sedimentation and flocculent accumulation. (Just looking at the vocabulary gives you … Continue reading Science Sees Sea Snot Seeping on the Seafloor

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.

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