Scientists Meet and Greet Teachers

An important goal of COSEE Great Lakes is to assist scientists with education and outreach. We do this in several ways, an important one being small group gatherings where teachers can talk one-on-one with scientists to let them know how their science can fit into classrooms. Two opportunities for such gatherings were arranged by Minnesota Sea Grant and COSEE’s Minnesota staff in conjunction with the Lake Superior Youth Summit in May.

On Friday, May 15, at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, nine middle and high school teachers and one facilitator met with three scientists, all from the University of Minnesota Large Lakes Observatory. The scientists gave short presentations about the research they are currently conducting. Afterwards the teachers introduced themselves and entered into a discussion with each other and the scientists about ways to integrate current research into classroom activities, the hope being that students will become more eager to learn about science by being exposed to the latest discoveries and challenges.

The discussion was dynamic as the teachers and scientists challenged each other to consider ways they could ratchet up scientific and ocean/Great Lakes literacy in the United States through Great Lakes studies.

The teachers thought their students would be most intrigued by the tools the researchers were using to study Lake Superior. Beyond microscopes and simple stream monitoring kits, students have a limited understanding of tools available for scientific inquiry. Teachers also thought the researchers' stories about being out on the lakes and analyzing data would make science more vivid for their students. Web-based opportunities for learning were considered better than nothing, but the teachers seemed to feel that ideally, their students would meet scientists in person, conduct their own research, work along with scientists (i.e., Duluth Streams work), or see state-of-the-art technology first hand.

The researchers were curious about why scientists aren't invited into the classroom more often. The answer boiled down to: equity among classes, administrative challenges, time required to teach to state standards, timing, and not enough time). One of the themes that emerged was that inquiry-based teaching might help students better apply the concepts they have become accustomed to memorizing. Incoming university students are apparently adept at memorizing theory but show a limited ability to problem-solve.

On Saturday, May 16, six middle and high school teachers and one teacher educator met with six U.S. EPA scientists for with a similar goal for their interactive session.

Teachers made a strong plea to the researchers to share their presentation slides and case studies so that the teachers could use them in the classroom. Teachers talked of needing access to graphs and figures from current research, particularly if the materials are first annotated by the scientists. Teachers felt that this type of information in their hands was essential to "telling the story" of environmental research in a meaningful way that would allow them to engage the students in inquiry and interpretation.

Scientists were willing to share their presentations and in most cases to annotate them to make them more teacher-friendly. Teachers and scientists exchanged ideas for simple software that could be used to engage students in the types of predictive modeling that the scientists were talking about, particularly with regard to toxicology. All agreed to exchange emails to allow further dialogue about research and education.

Practical ideas for relaying current scientific research into classrooms emerged from both sessions. The format used for these sessions was very productive and will likely yield greater returns in the future. For others who wish to conduct similar events for mutual learning among educators and scientists, Cindy Hagley has guidelines for both teachers and scientists to encourage dialogue, and can supply a sample agenda based on the Duluth experience.

Submitted by Sharon Moen and Cynthia Hagley