Ocean Program Makes Science a Family Affair

July 19th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Features, July 2010, Multimedia

A youngster carefully drips water onto a penny from a pipette, counting the drops as the water accumulates until the growing liquid dome gives way and water spills off the coin. Is she:

  1. Learning about surface tension
  2. Discovering the scientific method
  3. Enjoying an evening with her parents
  4. Participating in a National Science Foundation project

The answer: all of the above.

Ocean FEST—for Families Exploring Science Together—is a new, intergenerational hands-on marine science program. This family-based program uses the marine environment as a hook to explore important science concepts and conservation topics.

Activities are designed to meet Hawaiʻi Content and Performance Standards in math and sciences for grades 3-6. Ultimately, they are intended to increase the number of young people, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented areas and backgrounds, in the marine sciences and related fields.

Program founders and lead instructors are two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa staffers with a shared passion for science and education.

Described as the driving force behind the program, Barbara Bruno is on faculty at the Department of Oceanography and the education coordinator for the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE). She is responsible for developing a “K through grey” education program that is fully integrated with C-MORE’s research initiatives.

Carlie Wiener is the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands research and outreach program specialist at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. The program offers interactive school visits and continuing education courses, participates in community events and produces podcasts and articles about conservation-driven research projects.

They developed the program with funding from the National Science Foundation, following seed funding from UH Mānoa’s Student Equity Excellence and Diversity Program. Supplementary funding was subsequently provided by the Hawaii Innovation Initiative.

“We used the Kimuras as our model,” says Wiener. Community members Art and Rene Kimura developed and offered Future Flight Hawaiʻi, a popular space-themed family science experience, in conjunction with UH’s Space Grant Consortium.

After a year in development and a test run at four elementary schools, Bruno and Wiener took the Ocean FEST program to more than 400 youngsters in 14 schools, from Kailua to Waiʻanae on Oʻahu and Hāna on Maui to Keaukaha in Hilo during the 2009-2010 school year.

“We especially target charter and Title I schools and schools in remote areas. We want to hit underserved areas where student aren’t as likely to pursue marine science careers,” says Wiener. “A local, diverse geoscience workforce in Hawaiʻi’s next generation will be critical to tackling the urgent local problems posed by our rapidly changing environment.”

During a science night, teachers gather at 5 p.m. for 30 minutes of professional development. Students and their parents arrive at 5:30 for two-plus hours of hands-on science that is as fun as it is educational.

Ocean FEST themes include climate change and sea level rise, coral reef ecosystems, marine microbes and marine science careers. Activities are designed so students can see how globally important issues, such as climate change and ocean acidification, have local effects, such as coastal erosion and coral bleaching. Access to authentic research brings concepts like scientific method come alive.

In addition to Penny Plop, activities include Drowning Island, Cartesian Divers, Oil and Water Tube, Ocean Acidification and Make a Microbe. (Activity sheets can be downloaded at the website.)

Pre- and post-testing documents increases in student knowledge. “Results show significant improvement in all the areas we teach,” Wiener says.

Family involvement adds significant value to the experience, she says, and parents agree. “Perfect for parent/child interactions,” wrote a Lāʻie Elementary parent.

“It would be great to see more classes like this. I am much more aware of how the Earth is impacted,” commented a Kaleiopuʻu parent. “My son was engaged the whole time.” A Maunawili parent admitted to taking notes in order to use the activities as a teacher in her own classroom.

Which is part of the plan. In each of the next two years, more than 20 Ocean FEST will be scheduled at elementary schools and community events statewide. Once the project is completed, Bruno and Wiener hope to have a cadre of trained teachers who can continue and share the program.

Ocean FEST programs for 2010–2011 begin in August. For more information and resources, visit the website. To inquire about hosting an Ocean FEST family science night, contact program coordinator Michelle Hsia at (808) 956-3715 or email fest@soest.hawaii.edu.

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