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Making Waves: Episode 49 (April 14, 2010)

In our last podcast, we took you to the exhibit floor of the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association held in mid-March in Philadelphia.

We focused in that episode on the NOAA Exhibit Program, and about the variety of products and tools that NOAA brings to the table for large conferences like NSTA.

This week, we continue our coverage of the annual conference with a focus on NOAA's education outreach efforts at the event.

It's Wednesday, April 14, 2010, and you're listening to Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.

NSTA Education Outreach

"My name is Ginger Redlinger. I'm a Teacher at Sea alumni, and I'm working here at the NSTA convention for NOAA in the climate booth and the oceans booth disseminating information to teachers about all the resources that NOAA has. I love sharing the wonderful experiences I've had with NOAA and their teacher programs and how I use their resources."

We begin this episode in the NSTA exhibit hall ... right where we left off on the last podcast ... to hear from Ginger Redlinger. She was one of a small contingent of former Teacher at Sea participants from around the country who came to Philly to work with NOAA to help educate teachers about the resources available to them. 'Teachers at Sea' is a program that enables a small group of teachers to board NOAA research and survey ships each year to work directly with scientists and crew for a week or two. It's an amazing experience, but of course it's something that not many of the roughly 12,000 science teachers attending this annual convention will get to do.

So that's Ginger's main mission here -- to introduce teachers to what's freely available from NOAA, and to hopefully get them as excited about it as she is:

"I'm hoping that they get the message that NOAA works very hard to ensure there are resources for every teacher in every classroom and every type of student in the country to learn about the oceans, the climate, the earth, weather, and how it impacts our lives. And I hope they get excited about it as much as I get excited about it, and go back to the classroom and get the kids just as excited as the teachers are. There are all sorts of things that kids get excited about based on things that teachers can share because NOAA has made it a mission to be sure that everyone has this information, that they use this information at the classroom level. "

Well, that's precisely the mission of NOAA education experts and scientists gathered at this conference ... together, their education outreach efforts extend well beyond the boundaries of the NOAA booth on the exhibit floor. Over a two-day period, they'll serve up a wide range of talks and demonstrations in break-out rooms throughout the Pennsylvania Convention Center to help science teachers, well, find better ways to teach science.

NOAA hosts a symposium every year at NSTA, and each year there's a new theme. This year, the focus is on climate.

[sounds of Bruce Moravchik presenting lecture]

That's Bruce Moravchik, an education specialist with the National Ocean Service. Bruce led a session during NOAA's sold-out symposium about understanding sea level change using archived and real-time NOAA data. And he was also one of the many people behind the planning effort for NOAA's participation at NSTA.

We met up with him after he completed his talk.

"The NSTA national convention is one of the premier events for NOAA educators. It is by far the largest single audience that NOAA educators have to reach face to face through our exhibit and through the numerous presentations and symposia, as well as follow-up web seminars that we do with attendees."

In addition to Bruce's presentation, there were a wide range of experts on hand to talk with teachers on subjects ranging from basic climate literacy, to climate change impacts in the U.S., to the oceans impact on corals. Even the head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenko, came to Philadelphia to present a plenary talk on building an environmentally literate workforce.

"What's done with an NSTA symposium is we get some of the best scientists as well as some of the best educators focusing around a specific theme, and we begin by offering a pretty intensive half-day symposia where we combine the scientists giving presentations with the educators giving hands-on resources that educators can then use back in their classrooms, so we're tying together the scientific facts and the theories behind them, with really the hands on aspect."

And, he added, the learning doesn't stop at the NSTA conference.

"And then, what's done in addition is that there are two follow-up web seminars, so that educators who have attended one of these can then garner additional information from the scientists, and they have other opportunities after several weeks to digest some of the information they've gotten, maybe answer some other questions, maybe try some things out in their classroom, and at the same time, NSTA also offers a LISTSERV, so that over the next month or two, individuals who have attended these can then interact with other members who have attended the symposia, and they can ask questions, they can run things back and forth with different people, so it's really not only this one face to face period. "

Before we let Bruce get back to work, we asked him why NOAA decided to focus on climate for this year's national meeting:

"I think that our organization has come to realize that the issue of climate is one of the areas that really binds many parts of the organization together, both in terms of the scientific research that's done, as well as the areas of education that we can focus on. When we look at all of the work that's done focusing on the ocean, we recognize how important the ocean is in terms of affecting the atmosphere, weather, and subsequently climate. And a lot of measurements that we do are taken by the many satellites that NOAA operates, as well as at sea, many of our buoys, recording data, and a lot of work that people do just in the field. "

[sounds of Paulo Maurin presenting lecture]

What you're listening to is a great example of what Bruce was just talking about ... of how climate ties together many aspects of scientific research that NOAA's involved with. That's Paulo Maurin, national education coordinator for NOAA's coral reef conservation program. Paulo presented a couple of talks about ocean acidification and coral bleaching that generated a lot of interest and excitement from the teachers. We caught up with him back in the exhibit hall to ask him what his presentations were about.

"This being a science conference, I assume a basic understanding of the biology, so there's not a whole lot that I talk about like 'Corals 101' that we do in other conferences, where we talk about corals are animals, how they feed and all that. Here I do a very, very brief overview. Most people are familiar with bleaching. They know that it happens, and they know the basic mechanism of how it happens, but I try to fill in the details. Ocean acidification is a new topic on the block. And it's one that most people have only heard by name, but have a lot of questions and sometimes misunderstandings, so there's a lot of interest in that topic. "

What exactly is ocean acidification? Paulo said it starts with C02 in the atmosphere -- it turns out about a third of this C02 is absorbed by the oceans :

" Some people would say 'that's great! that's C02 that is not in the atmosphere,' but it's actually having a tremendous impact in the ocean. It's changing the basic chemistry of the ocean. And what it's doing, it's lowering the Ph of the ocean, and at the same time it's taking out the main building blocks that many marine organisms need to build their skeletons. So many of them build their skeletons using calcium carbonate, and ocean acidification is making this element less available. So they're having a tougher time in creating the skeletons that they need to survive."

And one of the most well-known marine organisms that need calcium carbonate to survive are corals. Paulo said that ocean acidification and coral bleaching really strike a chord with teachers and students alike -- coral ecosystems, he said, are on the front lines of climate change -- he called them the 'canaries in the coal mine' for the 21st century.

But how do you teach this? That's something Paulo spends a lot of time thinking about. He said that NOAA has people with tremendous teaching backgrounds, and that's helping the organization to develop products that are fine-tuned and targeted for teachers to use in the classroom. His group is focusing on developing products centered on ocean acidifications affect on corals.

"For corals, we're going to be using ocean acidification as our entry point for data in the classroom. Here, they've expressed a tremendous amount of interest in exploring the topic together with the students. So we're going to be developing products that use real-time data on ocean acidification and then bleaching, so they can use it in the classroom."

What does Paulo mean when he says 'data in the classroom?' We asked him to explain.

"NOAA, as a science agency, generates a whole lot of data, and we invest millions of dollars in the infrastructure to gather and communicate the data. But we normally communicate it to scientists and resource managers. With a little bit of extra additional investment, you can create targeted educational products that use certain parameters of the data, and link to specially developed lesson plans, so when the teachers are doing the lesson plans, instead of having them use hypothetical data or hypothetical scenario, or old data, they're using the freshest data that we have. So for instance in ocean acidification, we're going to be developing five lesson plans, and these are going to be drawing in the specific parameters that the lesson plans will be talking about, and then we'll develop a special user-teacher interface on the Web so they can have access to the data without guiding the teacher to a place that's been developed for somebody else in mind. So, it's not very effective when you guide the teachers to a Web portal that has been designed with scientists in mind."

As we wrapped up our talk with Paulo, Jeff MacHarry, a 5th grade science teacher at the lab schools at the University of Chicago in Illinois, approached Paulo to thank him for his talk.

"I just learned a ton of stuff that I had never picked up anywhere else. As fifth graders, I'm not sure how much of the data we're going to be using, more of sort of the concepts behind how the corals build the reefs and how adding C02 to the atmosphere -- which is something we've already talked about -- is really affecting them on a chemical level, and tying it into what we've learned about dissolving and crystallization."

He stressed the value of having a real world problem to talk about with his students to help bring important concepts to life:

"I'm new to my job, and I'm supposed to teach an oceanography unit, and so this was great for me to sort of think about how we can ... basically the course I teach now is a physical science course, and I'm trying to tie the basic physical concepts that we've been learning to a real world problem and a real world ecosystem so the kids can see that it's not just us in the lab dissolving salt in a beaker of water, but this is applicable to real world problems that we're really trying to deal with."

And this is what the NSTA conference is all about for NOAA -- building relationships between scientists and educators and teachers like Jeff MacHarry. Perhaps Bruce Moravchik, NOAA education specialist, best sums up what NOAA's education program is working to achieve through venues like NSTA:

"There are so many areas in science that are being attacked on all sides -- be it evolution, be it climate change -- and if science educators have the ability to have direct access to scientists who are actually doing the research on a range of different subjects, through either face-to-face presentations like they have at symposium or when they're home in their jammies via a web seminar asking questions back and forth, I think it provides them with a knowledge that they need to do their jobs as best as they can do them, and provides them with the kinds of free support that is truly unavailable to them because of the difficult economic times that a lot of school districts are in these days."

(Closing)

We hoped you enjoyed our two-part special about NOAA's participation in the 2010 National Science Teachers Association conference. Head to oceanservice.noaa.gov for our accompanying Web story on the event.

And a special thanks to Ginger Redlinger, Bruce Moravchik, Paulo Marin, and Jeff MacHarry for taking the time to speak with us for this episode.

You can learn more about NOAA's education offerings at education.noaa.gov. The National Ocean Service education portal can be found at oceanservice.noaa.gov/education. You can dive in to the Coral Reef Conservation Program at coralreef.noaa.gov. If you're a teacher interested in NOAA's Teach at Sea program, head over to www.tas.noaa.gov. And last but not least, head over to www.climate.gov for global climate news, data, and information.

That's all for this week. If you have any questions about this week's podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean send us a note at nos.info@noaa.gov.

Now let's bring in the ocean.

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.

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