PML scientists teach school children across the world about oceans


Skype lesson with Mrs Crain's class

“Exploring Oceans” is an initiative of Digital Explorer that aims to inspire students around the world to think differently about the oceans.

The initiative uses “Skype in the Classroom” to bring oceanography lessons to classes ranging from primary school to secondary school throughout November and early December. Scientists within PML and the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) have been collaborating with Digital Explorer to provide informative and exciting lessons by experienced marine scientists. The lessons were 30 minutes long, using Skype video and screen sharing to communicate and share visual materials (slides, photos and videos). The students were keen to ask questions once the presentation part was over.

Dr Helen Findlay, one of Digital Explorer’s Ocean Ambassadors, provided lessons on ocean acidification and conducting ocean science in the Arctic. Helen has given four Skype lessons, with students from Canada (Grade 6, age 11-12), the USA (two Grade 8 classes, age 13-14), and from Hong Kong (seniors, age 16-18). Dr Findlay began each lesson with a photo of her with frozen hair, receiving a score of “wows” from the students. She then introduced ocean acidification, the Arctic, and how sea ice is changing, showing photos of working at sea and on ice. The students asked Helen a wide range of questions, everything from what made her want to become a marine scientist; to rates of ice melt and how the arctic is changing.

On behalf of POGO, PML's Sophie Seeyave has been coordinating a topic on “Ocean Observing”, with speakers from both PML and SAHFOS. Dr Marie-Fanny Racault and Dr Victor Martinez- Vicente (PML scientists) gave their first lesson on 21 November, on ocean observations using both in-situ sampling and remote sensing. The students were Grade 5 (10-11 years old) from Rue Elementary School in Iowa, USA. Marie-Fanny and Victor gave an interactive lesson, encouraging the students to participate as much as possible. The scientists began the lesson by introducing the students to phytoplankton and demonstrating how scientists can collect phytoplankton samples, using either plankton nets or Niskin bottles, later discussing the use of microscopes to identify and count cells. They also showed some photos of different types of phytoplankton. The lesson progressed to introduce the idea of using satellites to be able to study phytoplankton on much larger scales, showing satellite images and finally a video of the rotating Earth as seen from satellites with the distribution of chlorophyll as it changes throughout the year.

The children were interested to know what kinds of studies are required to become an Oceanographer, and how long Victor and Marie-Fanny had been studying phytoplankton. They also asked how phytoplankton grows, what its life span is, and what would happen if phytoplankton were to become extinct. The teacher, Mrs Crain, commented:

“My students loved how the speakers interacted with them. They were careful to use scientific vocabulary that 5th grade students could understand. My students were amazed that a lot of their ocean work involved satellites from space. They were also amazed at how long the scientists have worked in college and in their specialized area.”

The students made some really enthusiastic and intelligent remarks, such as “If phytoplankton died out, I bet that the whole life cycle would die out and then some animals that eat fish would die out and then later we would all die out" and "I didn't know that phytoplankton could be a whole bunch of different shapes and sizes and colours also", "I liked how the satellite picture was all colour coded to show the phytoplankton" and finally, "I want to do their job, it would be cool!".

The “Skype in the Classroom” initiative is engaging schools from all around the world and PML scientists have had several other requests for lessons that will be scheduled soon, mostly in the USA and Canada.

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