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Making Waves: Episode 48 (March 31, 2010)

You're listening to the sounds of K through 12 science teachers. A couple of weeks ago, hundreds and hundreds of teachers from around the nation came together for the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in Philadelphia. The meet-up was held in the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center -- and it was a hive of activity. From a giant exhibit hall to legions of break out rooms for sessions and speakers and symposia, the entire place was packed with science teachers.

So you're probably wondering what this has to do with NOAA? Well, we took a trip up to Philly with microphone in hand to find out.

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service ... today, we have the first half of a two-part special ... recorded live in Philadelphia.

(National Science Teachers Association Conference: NOAA Exhibits Program)

Today we're going to be spending some time at the NOAA booth in the exhibit hall at the National Science Teachers Association annual meeting. NOAA's exhibit takes up about 1,200 square feet of space and it's stocked with well over 10,000 pounds of materials that will soon end up in teachers classrooms around the nation.

The exhibit is big, bold, and eye-catching ... and it has to be. NOAA is one of well over a hundred organizations -- public, private, government, commercial -- all vying for attention.

NSTA's annual meeting is one of NOAA's larger outreach events. It's one of around only a couple of dozen major venues that NOAA takes part in each year.

Big gatherings like this are a chance for NOAA men and women from a variety of backgrounds and expertise to come together to meet face to face with thousands of people from all walks of life ... students, retirees, scientists, or, here at NSTA, science teachers. Paul Taylor exhibit manager from the National Ocean Service, is one of the people who works behind the scenes to make NOAA's presence at these shows a success. He said that while it's important to catch peoples attention with an impressive visual display, the real challenge is getting the right NOAA people for each event:

"This show is obviously for science teachers. We may go in the Fall to AARP, that's more of a general public and you're dealing with active seniors and retired personnel. We go to the American Meteorological Society, and that is more of a weather-focused event. So we try to do is match material that we have, recognize the audience that we're promoting to, and then marry those two in some shape or form, wether that be visual graphics to catch their attention, but really what we're working on is getting the right people to work the booth, because the power in the booth is who are staffing it. Interactive, one-on-one conversations. That's really the powerful information exchange. Someone can see a picture, or a poster, or an informational graphic. That's just an eye catcher. It's really the interactive conversation where the information's exchanged."

Paul works with Les Adams, NOAA's lead exhibit manager. On the first day of the conference, just as the teachers started flowing in, Les and Paul stood back to survey their work. The exhibit team spent most of the previous day unpacking and constructing the display, and their team has been preparing for this event for months. Here's Les:

"NSTA is our product heavy show. We have a lot of materials here. When I shipped all of these products, I had 14,000 pounds of product and exhibits, so it's our heaviest show, but in the end it's worth it. It gets these materials, these products, into classrooms all the way from elementary to the high school level. So we have products geared on a full range of subjects and then also on a full range of educational levels."

What kind of products is Les talking about? Enter Jeanine Montgomery, manager of NOAA's Education Outreach Center:

"Products actually range in this day of technology from actual links to Web sites. Sometimes that's just what people are interested in. NOAA produces a lot of the DVDs and CDs that are a collection these days of curricular products that also live online, or specific individual lesson plans, or individual posters for download and printing, multimedia objects … there's a potential I suppose to put podcasts on those types of products in the future. Sometimes it's connecting up a classroom with a presentation speaker. So it's a lot of different products that people are after."

By the end of the show, all of these products are going to be in the hands of teachers. But many of the teachers want more NOAA material than they can carry away with them. To manage this demand, the NOAA staff at the booth are also using bar code scanners to take orders. Back at NOAA, the Education Outreach Center collects all of these orders and mails the material out to classrooms around the country. Jeanine was on hand at the event to shepherd the education outreach effort, but she was also there to listen to teachers to find out what they're looking for.

She said that for teachers on a tight budget, these products are really popular -- not only because they're free -- but because they contain vetted, reliable, science that can be used in the classroom.

One of these teachers using NOAA materials is Michelle Painter, who teaches science in Hillsboro, New Jersey. Michelle stopped by the booth to pick up some materials and to talk about an upcoming class she's interested in taking.

"I've taken two of the data stream classes that NOAA offers. As a matter of fact, I was here inquiring about a third that they should be offering next year. Basically it's a free class, it's college credit, and it's really great. I've used a lot of the activities in the classroom. And, you know, the posters and things that they have, I always put this stuff in my classroom for the kids to look at, and now I just discovered an activity on climate that they have, which is what we're getting ready to study – we're on weather and climate right now – so there's an activity that they have that's associated with one of the posters I'm going to take back and use and share with the members of my department."

And as Paul Taylor said earlier, it's face-to-face communication between the NOAA people manning the exhibit and teachers like Michelle that's the most important part of the NOAA Exhibit program. It's those NOAA people who are answering questions, talking about NOAA programs and services, and making sure that right NOAA products get into the hands of the teachers who need them.

So let's meet some of these people. The NOAA exhibit space in divided into four different zones -- each area highlighting one aspect of what NOAA does. We'll start off in the data and research area.

[Background audio of Dan Pisut talking]

That's Dan Pisut. He's the manager of NOAA'S Environmental Visualization Lab, is over in the NOAA data and research zone. He's pointing at a large LCD screen behind him and talking excitedly about the layers upon layers of NOAA data overlaid in a rainbow of colors on a Google Map projection of the Earth.

Dan said he's always looking for new, interesting visual ways to present NOAA data - which is one of the reasons he loves his job. This is his second time at the NSTA annual conference representing NOAA.

"You know, I used to be a teacher, and that was one of the reasons I was so excited about taking on this job. I used to search for the different materials and animations and images so I didn't have to draw on the white board with five different colored markers, and the kids look at me like … I'd see the picture and the kids never did. So know, you know, myself and my staff we do that. I'm always trying to think of what would be useful for teachers in the classroom, and I welcome their input on it as well."

Now, across the area from Dan and the data and research area is the NOAA weather zone.

[Background audio of John Jensenius talking with teachers]

The first thing teachers notice at in the weather area is the NOAA guy wearing a red hat with a big yellow lightning bolt sticking out of each side. Meet Dr. Lightning, aka John Jensenius, a NOAA meteorologist based near Portland, Maine. This is the third time John has represented NOAA at the NSTA conference.

"Well, a lot of times people will just ask you about the weather they may have observed, or what they're teaching. Sometimes they're just looking for information: 'where can I find this or that.' And certainly, with my interest in lightning, I get a lot of questions about lightning. There's a lot of misunderstanding about lightning, so it's an opportunity for them to find out a little bit more and for me to talk a little bit about it. And certainly, both the combination of science and also the safety aspect of it, too, because there are a lot of unnecessary lightning deaths and injuries every year in the United States."

Now let's move on from weather and head over to NOAA's ocean and fisheries zone. Over at this station, Jonathan Shannon, an educator with NOAA's national marine sanctuaries program was enjoying his first NSTA conference.

"We'll a lot of the teachers want to teach about these activities. They just need the information and they really value the fact that the scientists are helping to develop these products, so they can make that direct link for their students, to get their students really excited about the subject matter, instead of just looking at it in a book, getting them connected to current research, like what we're doing with the Okeanos, what we're doing in the sanctuaries with preservation and research and monitoring. They just really enjoy it. They like to have stuff that's packaged for them that they can take off the shelf and use, and then adapt to how they want to use it."

Our final stop on our audio tour of the NOAA's exhibit at the NSTA conference is a zone dedicated to the topic of climate, which is of course a big subject of interest these days. Here ran in to a first year teacher from the Atlanta area near this area named Heather Tomkins who had this to say:

"Obviously being new to a classroom, I want to dress it up with as much visually stimulating and content appropriate things in the room. I just got done talking to a very informative gentleman about climate literacy and the collaboration between the 18 or 19 different agencies and the effort that's going on behalf of NOAA with gathering information across different agencies – and the collaboration is astounding. Very exciting stuff."


We hope this gives you a small taste of NOAA's role at this event, and about the NOAA exhibits program. Be sure to head over to to see the accompanying Web story that goes with this podcast -- we have a really cool time-lapse video for you that shows the NOAA exhibit from setup to break down. It's a lot of fun to watch. And we have links for you for some of the programs we've talked about today.

Next week we're going to talk in more depth about the education outreach component that NOAA undertakes at events like NSTA. We've got some great interviews lined up. You'll hear from a National Ocean Service education expert, NOAA's coral reef education national coordinator, and from some teachers who worked at the NOAA booth who've participated in NOAA's Teacher at Sea program in past years.

A special thanks to the NOAA exhibits program staff and all the NOAA people for taking the time to out to talk with us about what they do. Let's leave Les Adams, NOAA exhibits program manager, with the last today:

"What would be the effect if we were not here. People wouldn't get the posters, they wouldn't get the information, they wouldn't know about climate, they wouldn't know about some of the weather products that we offer. We know that there's a lack of interest in science in our schools. If we can help promote science, I think it helps."

And 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 -- or if you have an ocean fact you'd like answered -- send us a note at

Now let's bring in the ocean.

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