Bringing Current Ocean Sciences and Communications Skills to Informal Science Educators
Shawn Rowe, Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant
Kerry Carlin Morgan, Oregon Coast Aquarium
Céleste Frazier Barthel, Wilson College
(Accessible document. Illustrations omitted.)
Professional Educators working in informal science education institutions (ISEs) are primary sources of public audiences learning about the ocean and ocean sciences, yet they have few opportunities for professional development.
A national needs assessment with education staff and directors at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions (n=59) shows that informal educators need professional development in communication and pedagogy.
Two different questions addressed the question of content of professional development. The first asked about type of professional development and the second about skill sets educators would like to see for themselves or their staff. The range of answers to both questions were remarkably similar, focusing on teaching/communication methods, science content, and evaluation training.
Educators recognized a need for pedagogical and communication skills:
•46% or respondents suggested that methods of teaching and communicating should be the core of professional development
•59% claimed that they or their staff needed such skills.
A similar pattern can be seen for content knowledge:
•17% claimed that they or their staff needed more content knowledge,
•21% felt this was the primary role of professional development.
Professional development seems to be perceived as primarily about delivering new science content rather than as a source for learning new methods of teaching and communicating science.
It also showed that colleges and universities are underutilized resources.
Educators at AZA institutions currently get most of their professional development (44% of respondents) from in house trainings and local workshops (other), with AZA the second most frequent source (39%)of professional development. This includes regional branches AZA, conferences, AZA school, and publications. 24% report NAI as the primary source of professional development, and about 15% get professional development from NSTA and NMEA together– about the same as colleges and universities.
One model for universities to to fill that gap is the NSF funded Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences (COSIA) course.
Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences (COSIA) is
•An NSF-funded Informal Science Education project,
•A collaboration between 5 pairs of marine informal science education institutions and nearby colleges or universities
•Strategic, long-term three-way partnerships to improve ocean science education in informal settings
One of the major initiatives of the project is the COSIA course
•colleges/universities work with local aquariums/marine science centers
•undergraduates/graduate students teach the public about current discoveries in ocean sciences.
The course focuses on
•opportunities to explore and apply current learning theory and instructional strategies geared toward informal learning environments,
•engages students in communicating ocean sciences at the informal science education institutions,
•opportunities to design an activity to be implemented at an aquarium or science center.
•Modeling research-based methods of communicating and facilitating learning is the core of the class.
COSIA at OSU pairs graduate students in ocean sciences with pre-service teachers to prepare both to better communicate with public audiences.
5 courses taught in 5 years at Oregon State University
•Evaluations (n=70) and interviews (n=15) suggest benefits for both future teachers and scientists
•100% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My experience in the course has influenced the way I think about learning’
•98% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My experience in the course has influenced the way I think about teaching”
Specific benefits identified by pre-service teachers in follow-up interviews once they have begun teaching include
•Multiple opportunities to practice various aspects of facilitating science through inquiry, focusing on the use of learning cycles and backwards design better help teachers feel comfortable with and understand inquiry as a way of learning science.
•Struggling with putting what they have learned about inquiry to work doing inquiry iteratively in “low stakes” settings allows teachers to articulate both the affordances and constraints of inquiry learning in realistic ways.
•Working with multiple audiences in multiple settings hones teachers skills at eliciting prior knowledge and prior experience and building on it.
•Teachers begin to see the importance of parents as co-learners or co-teachers and facilitators of children’s science learning.
•Teachers become more comfortable working with science-content experts and articulating what those experts can bring to teaching and learning partnerships.
COSIA at ISEs introduces educators to learning theory, communication techniques and reinforces basic ocean science concepts for better communicating current ocean sciences research.
4 COSIA workshops taught in 2 years by OSU staff for educators from 4 institutions:
•Maryland Science Center and National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD
•Two sets of workshops: 24 participants
•Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitors Center and Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, OR
•Two sets of workshops: 24 participants
Curriculum modeled on COSIA graduate class at OSU.
•Pedagogical and content knowledge presented through modeling interactive communication techniques.
Observations (n=24) and interviews (n=23) show staff are
•Adopting COISA principles into floor demonstrations
•2 new Science on a Sphere presentation formats
•3 new cart presentations
•New nano-science demonstrations at Maryland
•Adopting COSIA principles into new course development
•1 new course at HMSC VC incorporating inquiry techniques
•Adopting COSIA principles for in-house training
•New 40 hour volunteer training and manual developed at Oregon Coast Aquarium
•New collaborations between organizations
•Monthly educator meetings between National Aquarium in Baltimore and Maryland Science Center
Professional development like COSIA that combines active learning with communications modeling can create effective learning environments for educators.
In interviews, staff report
•Excitement to learn that their facilitation practices can be anchored in research on learning and teaching
•That as a result of the course, they begin to pay more attention to eliciting prior knowledge of visitors
•That they pay more attention to visitor responses to questions after the course
•That they feel more confident in teaching or facilitating learning about basic ocean concepts such as density and currents.
•That they feel more confident to develop new courses, demonstrations, and floor activities that allow for visitor led inquiry.
•That they want to have more professional development opportunities around communications and research on learning and teaching.
•That they become more reflective about their own practice.
There is also some evidence that the courses result in changes to self-efficacy as interpreters or teachers.
For more information please contact Shawn Rowe