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Successful pilot program for schools launched by Ocean Sciences
Kelly Foss
Two students perform a fish dissection.

The Department of Ocean Sciences, in collaboration with the Oceans Learning Partnership (OLP), has successfully pilot tested a new program for high school students on land and at sea.

During the fall, approximately 130 youth from schools in Avondale, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South, St. John’s and Torbay participated in the pilot program. The at-sea component involved a hands-on program on board the Coastal Explorer vessel, launching from the Holyrood Marine Base. Using state-of –the-art scientific and oceanographic equipment, students developed basic skills in the collection of oceanographic, meteorological and biological data.

“Their focus was on navigation, harvesting technology, plankton identification and ROV operation, as well as the use of a multibeam sonar and underwater camera,” said program coordinator Danielle Nichols, who is the research marketing manager with the department.

The at-sea program was complimented by a day-long laboratory session at the Ocean Science Centre (OSC) facility in Logy Bay.

“While they were here we provided them an overview of the OSC facilities and highlighted some of the research currently on-going within the department,” said Ms. Nichols. “Then we split them into groups. Half went outside to do hands-on work with our seals and learn what goes into maintaining marine mammals. The other half went into the lab, learning how to identify live species of marine invertebrates and perform fish dissections. After a set period of time, the two groups changed places so all students would receive the same experience.”

This is the first time the Department of Ocean Sciences has been able to offer programming to schools inside the OSC facility in over 15 years.

“Our indoor programming closed in 1999 and we’ve only been able to offer outdoor programming since then,” said Ms. Nichols. “This is like returning to our roots because the marine lab used to do it all the time.”

Before bringing the programming inside, the department first had to renovate a laboratory space in the building to host the visitors. Program support came in the form of an OSC staff student assistant, Memorial Undergraduate Career Experience Program (MUCEP) and International Student Work Experience Program (ISWEP) positions to assist with the delivery of the program. Graduate students also volunteered their time and used their education and experience to motivate the high school students.

“We also secured funding through the Ocean Learning Partnership (OLP) for student transportation and substitute teacher backfills and we had internal support through in-kind contributions and donations, including laboratory supplies and equipment from the Department of Biology,” said Ms. Nichols. “Gary Collins, Laboratory Supervisor, in the Department of Biology was instrumental in helping me get ready for the students.”

The program received tremendous feedback from teachers as well as parents.

“I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for allowing my daughter… to participate in yesterday's amazing field trip to the Marine Lab,” wrote one parent. “She burst through the door when she got home, declaring it the best trip ever. She said if school was like that everyday, she would be the most interested kid alive.”

Ms. Nichols says the school pilot program will bring great benefits to the department and to the university, as well as the province’s education curriculum.

“I think it fulfills Memorial’s frameworks on teaching and learning, with a particular focus on public engagement,” she said. “This program aims to address the gaps in the ocean education in secondary schools and provides students with experiential learning opportunities. It’s also a great recruitment tool for getting future students to consider studying ocean sciences.”

The program will be delivered again in the spring but Ms. Nichols already has an eye on the future.

“Right now we are solidifying the program – making sure we have all the right elements and that we are supporting the learning outcomes needed to be met by the schools,” she said. “Then next year we hope to secure funding to expand and allow the program to continue into the future.”

Nov 21st, 2013

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