This quarter I took the COSIA (Communicating Ocean Science to Informal Audiences) course taught by Shawn. He had a role in designing this class with staff from the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California Berkeley and several other COSIA partners around the country. This course is excellent for grad students in the science and formal education fields to learn about ocean science concepts, gain instructional and facilitation strategies for informal settings, and apply their skills towards effective activity design. I have experience facilitating marine science activities at outdoor schools and at aquariums, but this class gave more insight on HOW people learn in these settings. Reading and discussing learning theory with classmates was beneficial to improving my abilities as a facilitator while focusing on how to support a learner-driven experience.
Our challenge was to design an activity that was “minds-on” and hands-on. Susan and I thought about topics that were abstract and that we could attempt to model them for better visualization. Our plan was to provide views of the concept from different perspectives and allow for the discussion of what people already knew. We started with plankton, a significant component of the marine ecosystem, and decided on an exploration of photosynthesis, the oxygen cycle, and connections to phytoplankton. Our overall activity consisted of four stations: learners could think about the proportion of water to land in terms of surface area, comparisons between the ocean and land with regards to net photosynthesis, a visual mapping of terms related to the oxygen cycle, and a station with a plankton sample to look at under the microscope. We took our activity to the Visitor Center at Hatfield Marine Science Center which allowed us to test and prototype “in the wild.” This was an incredibly helpful exercise as we found out what was confusing or needed to be refined prior to others attempting to replicate it. The public gave us helpful feedback that allowed us to improve our work and participants were excited to help.
The COSIA course culminated with Family Ocean Science Night. It was fun to have a variety of ages engage in all of the activities designed by students in the class. Many of the participants were drawn to the tools like the microscope. There is always an element of mystery as to what you will see when you look through the eyepieces. I was especially inspired by a conversation I heard between two boys, in which one was took the role of facilitator for the activity. He did not want to “tell” the other how to get to the answer, but was ready help if there were any questions. Hooray for our future generation of science lovers and science communicators!
On behalf of the COSIA class we are grateful to the many families that came out to participate in our Ocean Science Night! Thank you for letting us practice our skills and for your constructive feedback!