By Jaime Belanger
Snow doesn’t stop motivated teachers from heading to the estuary!
What kinds of science can you study during the winter on the Oregon coast? Nine teachers braved the heavy gray skies, icy passes and a assortment of precipitation to find out. In mid-February the group of educators spent three days immersed in learning about ocean acidification and climate science at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston. Elementary, middle and high school teachers of science, social studies, library and media and environmental education attended a Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) workshop. The Reserve used the phenomenon of ocean acidification as an anchor to explore causes and effects of changing atmosphere on estuaries and oceans.
During the workshop, teachers participated in classroom activities and field work to tackle the complexities of climate change and ocean acidification. Understanding the science behind these issues is difficult, and educators often face additional challenges when teaching about climate change due to external factors that influence student thinking like political polarization, media bias or personal values. Workshop participants learned ways to make ocean acidification, the carbon cycle and pH more tangible and relevant to their students. In addition, they had opportunities to discuss obstacles they face in their teaching, and methods to help address some of those problems.
The teachers examined water quality trends from South Slough with Ali Helms, the Reserve’s Estuarine and Monitoring coordinator. They discussed anomalies in estuarine pH as well as recent issues with eel grass declines.
The Reserve’s Education Coordinator, Jaime Belanger, believes the best way to understand and connect with a place is full immersion, so she took the teachers out on a research cruise with Captain Knute, aboard the UO Oregon Institute of Marine Biology’s R/V Pluteus. Teachers collected plankton, measured water quality, examined benthic samples and observed the diverse wildlife that call the estuary home.
The group also had a unique opportunity to hear from Oregon State University PhD candidate Brian Erickson, who has reviewed an immense collection of ocean acidification resources, taught in classrooms and developed a curriculum for classroom teachers.
Finally, they spent a morning working through some exercises with artist and ocean historian Samm Newton. Samm asked the teachers to dig into the questions “what do we know,” “how do we know it,” and “why do we care.” Then they worked as a group to identify ways that environmental arts and humanities could strengthen ocean acidification lessons.
Teachers on the Estuary (TOTEs) are professional development workshops offered by National Estuarine Research Reserves designed to provide hands-on experience in estuary science concepts that can be applied in the classroom. Participating in a TOTE allows educators to explore coastal habitats and conduct field investigations, learn from local scientists and experienced coastal educators.
“It truly felt like a deep dive and it will definitely impact my teaching significantly.”
“There was a lot of variety; lectures, speakers, activities, field trip, boat excursion, group work and art. Which kept the pacing lively and engaging.”
The next climate TOTE workshop at South Slough will be held Jun 19-22. For more information and to register, visit the Eventbrite site
Jaime Belanger is the Education Coordinator for the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston, OR. In addition to providing professional development workshops for educators, she develops and leads students on field experiences at the Reserve throughout the year, and also works with teachers and students at their schools. South Slough NERR and UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology are partners in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.