The National Science Foundation has awarded UCLA and the University of Southern California a $2.5 million grant to improve marine-science education in grades K-12 in the Los Angeles area.
The universities will each receive $250,000 a year for five years and will join forces with other institutions including the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the California Science Center and the UCLA Ocean Discovery Center.
Collectively, they will form the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-West â€” one of seven such centers spread throughout the United States.
The local centerâ€™s goals will include training teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and other Los Angeles County school districts to successfully teach ocean science, encouraging K-12 students to pursue careers in ocean sciences, developing a public lecture series and creating a Web site that will be a free resource for students and teachers everywhere.
â€śSouthern California and the greater Los Angeles area, perhaps more than any other location in the United States, have intimate connections to the beaches and the sea,â€? said Bill Hamner, director of the UCLA Marine Science Center and professor of organismic biology. â€śThe center will use ocean science as an incentive to increase general science literacy and to increase the number of students who elect ocean sciences as a career objective.â€?
â€śWe have found that when science examples from the sea permeate the classroom, students who were previously indifferent to science class become highly motivated to learn more,â€? he said.
Linda Dugay, director of USCâ€™s Sea Grant program and deputy director of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, said the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-West (COSEE-West) will bring ocean-science researchers together with local educators.
â€śThis program is unique in promoting a long-term relationship between the scientists out exploring the ocean world and the educators who bring the scientific knowledge to the students and the general public,â€? Dugay said. â€śTeachers and students will be exposed to the excitement of discovery and the newest scientific findings from the very scientists involved in the discoveries.â€?
Sue Cook, program officer in the National Science Foundationâ€™s Division of Ocean Sciences, said the creation of the national network is an important milestone in the foundationâ€™s efforts to involve the ocean-science research community in all levels of education.
â€śThese innovative partnerships will clearly enrich what teachers teach and students learn,â€? Cook said. â€śThe work of the COSEE network as a whole will promote better public understanding of the key role that the ocean plays in global environmental cycles and processes.â€?
Phyllis Grifman, associate director of the USC Sea Grant program, said the center will use the â€śmaster teacherâ€? approach. Teachers will be trained as part of their continuing education and will pass on their knowledge to other teachers.
â€śItâ€™s important that the teachers have a good understanding of the science in order to be able to teach it,â€? Grifman said. â€śOur experience has been that the teachers really like it when they can talk directly to the scientists. It allows them to go into the classroom with a degree of knowledge and enthusiasm that is then passed on to the kids.â€?
The center hopes to reach 50,000 teachers in a five-year period, she said.
A series of 10 public lectures will focus on themes ranging from life in extreme environments to open ocean habitats.
The Internet site will have real-time links to weather and monitoring stations and include free curricula that can be downloaded and applied in the classroom.
â€śWe canâ€™t take everyone to the beach, but we can bring the beach to the classroom,â€? Grifman said.