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University of Delaware associate professor Tobias Kukulka and graduate student Todd Thoman performed tank demonstrations during the 75-Minute Science workshop to illustrate the role of wind-driven currents and Earth rotation in forming ocean garbage patches.

75 Minute Science

Photo courtesy of Tobias Kukulka

Delaware Sea Grant helps marine science educators across the country through virtual workshops

To help educators from across the country learn about the marine research taking place at the University of Delaware, as well as to provide those educators with lesson plans on how to teach that research in their classrooms, Delaware Sea Grant held a series of 75-Minute Science workshops in August.

The four 75-minute virtual workshops took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the course of two weeks. Participants signed in from all over the United States, as well as one educator from Canada, to learn about a diverse suite of topics: ocean circulation, microplastics, sea breezes and Antarctic food web formation.

The program was divided up into four parts. First, UD scientists gave a 30-minute presentation on their research, which was followed by a question-and-answer session. The teachers were then shown ways in which they could utilize lesson plans to best teach that science topic in their individual classrooms and this was also followed by a question-and-answer session.

Scientific presenters from UD included Tobias Kukulka, Jon Cohen, and Dana Veron, all associate professors in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, and Matt Oliver, the Patricia and Charles Robertson Professor of Marine Science and Policy.

Those leading the lesson planning portions of the programs included Chris Petrone, director of DESG’s Marine Advisory Service; Anna Internicola, who recently received her master’s degree from UD’s School of Marine Science and Policy; and David Christopher, marine education specialist with DESG.

The program came about as part of Kukulka’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program Award, which NSF awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Kukulka linked up with Petrone to develop an in-person workshop for participants that would be hosted at UD’s Lewes campus. As COVID-19 continued to spread throughout the world, however, it became clear that the in-person workshop was impossible.

When they decided to move the workshop to an online format, Petrone and Christopher realized they could expand on what was originally going to be a one-day workshop.

“David and I started talking about what it would look like if we did a series of these presentations,” said Petrone. “We came up with the idea to separate the researchers who were already on board, which at that point were Tobias and Jon, into two sessions and then invited some other researchers that we knew had lesson plans ready to go, to do a dual science + lesson plan workshop.”

Petrone said that they wanted to use the 75-Minute Science moniker to piggyback off of DESG’s already popular 15-Second Science video series.

To recruit participants, they worked with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association (MAMEA) to use this as a MAMEA mini-conference, which enabled participants to use the $10 sign-up fee to get a one-year membership to MAMEA as well as the four virtual workshops.

In addition, the workshops were sent to Delaware public science teachers through the Department of Education, DESG’s existing teacher contact list, and through the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Education Conference participant list. Emails were also sent through the Delaware Association for Environmental Education and the National Marine Educators Association , which helped net participants from outside the Mid-Atlantic. The event was posted on DESG’s social media accounts, with the content shared by the National Sea Grant Office and the National Marine Educators Association.

All in all, they ended up with 61 registrants from all over the country — including California, Texas, South Carolina and Washington State — and one participant from Canada.

The feedback has all been positive, from both the teacher participants and the researchers who led the presentations.

Kukulka was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the workshop transitioned to a virtual format.

“It was really great and surprisingly interactive,” said Kukulka. “The audience was curious and  had a lot of good questions. They participated and were really appreciative so it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed it.”

Petrone said that the teachers were especially excited to learn about a circulation demonstration tank from Kukulka. Demonstration experiments and related lesson plans were developed together with Kukulka’s graduate students Xingchi Wang, Alan Mason, and Todd Thoman. Thoman performed a live tank demonstration during the workshop to illustrate the role of wind-driven currents and Earth rotation in forming ocean garbage patches.

Local teachers who attended Kukulka’s presentation learned that they are able to borrow the tank through UD’s College of Engineering’s lending library, and the plan is to make instructional videos available to participants who want to build a circulation tank themselves.

In addition, Petrone said Internicola’s lesson plan on using R software — a programming language and free software for statistical computing and graphics — was beneficial to the participants.

“R sounds kind of scary to me and a lot of the teachers, but she has set up a whole website that walks participants through all of the activities,” said Petrone. “Her presentation was really well done. She did a nice job developing the lesson plan.”

After the success of this initial offering, the hope is to get more researchers on board for future workshops and to develop lesson plans that could accompany their research.

Petrone added that having the workshops online was a blessing in disguise, as the virtual format allowed DESG to reach a bigger audience than they would under normal circumstances.

“It expands our audience leaps and bounds. If we had a one-day workshop in Lewes, we might expect about 10 people who are probably from Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but this allowed us to expand the audience all the way to Canada,” said Petrone. “We had people tuning in from all over the country, which was really cool. It shed some light on Delaware and on UD research, particularly in CEOE, and expanded the audience for what we do.”

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