After a day-long cascade of productivity, Laura completed her Ph.D. proposal this afternoon. I called her and Shawn aside for a photo (above) to celebrate the milestone. Way to go, Laura!

It’s time to do annual reporting for Oregon Sea Grant. This gives us an opportunity to hold up our impacts and say “we did this.” In other ways, it’s about as much fun as it sounds.

Speaking of fun, here’s a really quick and easy  science activity from Make: Projects. With a mason jar, some rubbing alcohol, a flashlight, a disc of dry ice and a towel, you can make a cloud chamber to observe cosmic rays in real time. You can also make a bigger, fancier one with a basketball case. Then you let the universe do its thing, for the most part. You can trust the universe.  It’s been facilitating free-choice learning activities for a while.


Mark and I did some guerrilla filmmaking this morning.   Despite some hiccups and an uncooperative Sun, we got some good footage.  As I type this, Mark is preparing these and other videos for the Sea Grant all-hands meeting tomorrow and Friday.

Communicating what we do is a big part of what we do.  This is ethically necessary for human-subjects research (see Katie’s post from Monday), and it’s also a great way to teach science as a process.  It’s a somewhat recursive approach that can be, oddly enough, difficult to communicate.  I like to think we do a decent job of it.

I think the key point, as always, is that we’re all in this together.  Visitors, researchers, students and educators each have a role to play in this thing we call “Science.”  Researchers can learn about natural phenomena from the observations of the general public, while the general public can learn about research and natural phenomena from our Visitor Center exhibits and outreach products.  It’s a two-way street—nay, a busy four-way, multi-lane intersection—and our job is to facilitate the flow of information in any direction.

Much of what we do is familiar and time-tested—Bill, resplendent in his bloodstained white lab coat, holding aloft the entrails of a found shark before a crowd of excited children.  Such childhood experiences with classic museum interpretation are what drew many of us into this field.

Hopefully, the new strategies and technologies we’re in the process of introducing will come to be equally accepted and enjoyed by visitors.

One of the most important outcomes of our new Lab’s efforts will be in expanding our collaborations in order to advance the field. To that end, we started with the Sea Grant Education retreat that Harrison wrote about, outlining where the Lab fits in with the new vision of an education program and the Hatfield Visitor Center. We continued our discussions by having the Education team join in with the Sea Grant Extension folks this past week as they retreated for their own planning (though they got to go further away than just across the Bay, as Education did). For those of you unfamiliar with Sea Grant Extension, they’re similar to the Agricultural Extension programs that are the community outreach arm of Land Grant university programs: “The primary role of Oregon Sea Grant Extension is to be a trusted broker that provides the interface among scientists, managers, and the public, including stakeholders.’ – from the Oregon Sea Grant Extension website.

We met, first of all, and each took a few moments to explain what we do. As with the education retreat, there was a mix of who knew a lot of people from working together before, and who didn’t. The other task we took some time on was one we’d worked on as an Education team: 1) defining what “free-choice learning” means, 2) figuring out what we already do that is or isn’t “FCL,” and 3) deciding if and how to proceed to incorporate more FCL practices into our work. In both groups, we found that a lot of ways we are already working with our constituents use free-choice learning techniques. Moreover, both groups (Education and Extension) felt that these were effective styles to use whenever possible. The sticking point came with how much choice and control learners could have; for Extension, often, and especially K-12 school group programming, attendance is either mandated by regulation changes or by a teacher, neither of which situation was felt to provide the learner much choice or control. However, we felt that the more we could structure our delivery to center around the learner, the more effective and more positive the experiences could potentially be. Of course, all of these changes will require careful planning and ongoing evaluation. Good thing our Education and Extension programs are well-versed in these ideas. Now we just need a more coordinated effort so as to keep on top of things and not duplicate efforts.

Some choice quotes: Pat Corcoran describing his work as “feral-choice learning,” and Cait Goodwin noting that creating Quests “sounds like it should be easy, but it isn’t.” How apropos both of these were to the conversations as a whole. All in all, it was obvious that we have a lot of areas where we can (and often already do) help each other out. Here’s to continuing those relations as we all share the mission of supporting coastal and ocean resource research, outreach, and conservation.




Our Sea Grant educators’ retreat took place Tuesday. Thanks largely to Shawn and Laura’s planning and facilitation, we made some real progress in setting individual and collective trajectories for the education program.

Among our many agenda items were the construction of a staffing plan draft and—this was interesting—a small-group assignment to define “free-choice learning.” We found that our groups’ definitions generally agreed, even where they became fuzzy around the intricacies of motivation.

The staffing plan was a major outcome for the day. Currently, each of the folks on the floor of the Visitor Center or in the classrooms follows one of several chains of command. Even so, we’ve managed and communicated very well. This was evidenced by the fact that just about everyone at the retreat was already on a first-name, comfortable-talking-about-anything basis with everyone else.

Once the proposed plan is ironed out, we should have a more streamlined organizational structure and better coverage in some areas. Drafting the plan took surprisingly little time, as the needs of each team member and department were fairly well understood and complementary.

On a different topic, some of you are undoubtedly aware that Ursula began expelling eggs recently. These are infertile, and she seems to know it. She has not been laying them in ropes or grooming them as an expectant mother would, but rather attaching them in small clusters to the tank walls.

The husbandry team is currently making plans for Ursula’s release and the acquisition of another octopus. At this point, it’s uncertain exactly how much time Ursula has—a factor in when, where and how she can safely be released. In the meantime, Bill has been offering her live, local food to get her back in the habit of hunting.

We’ll all miss Ursula when she leaves, but we know that’s part of a human—or at least vertebrate—narrative. As always, we have to acknowledge her needs and to recognize that her perceptions and emotions do not mirror our own. With the onset of reproductive maturity, we must accept that her current needs can only be met by the sea that bore her.