USC and UCLA Launch Joint Ocean Science Education Center

Funded by an NSF grant, the center will promote a long-term relationship between scientists who explore the ocean world and educators who bring their discoveries to the classroom and beyond.
By Usha Sutliff
The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles a $2.5 million grant to improve marine science education in grades K-12 in the Los Angeles area.

The universities each will receive $250,000 a year for five years and 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, one of seven such centers spread throughout the United States.

The local center’s goals will include: training teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and county-wide to successfully teach ocean science; encouraging K-12 students to pursue careers in science; developing a public lecture series; and creating a Web site that will be a free resource for students and teachers everywhere.

"We’ll bring ocean science researchers together with local educators to hook students on science and increase overall science literacy," said Linda Duguay, director of USC’s Sea Grant program and deputy director of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

"This 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," Duguay added. "Teachers and students will be exposed to the excitement of discovery and the newest scientific findings from the very scientists involved in the discoveries."

Duguay and Anthony Michaels, director of USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, will be the program’s principal investigators at USC.

Bill Hamner, director of the UCLA Marine Science Center and professor of organismic biology, said Southern 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."

"We 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," said Hamner, who will be the program’s principal investigator at UCLA.

Susan Cook, program officer in the NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, said the creation of the national network is an important milestone in the foundation’s efforts to involve the ocean science research community in all levels of education.

"These innovative partnerships will clearly enrich what teachers teach and students learn," Cook said. "The 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."

Phyllis Grifman, associate director of the USC Sea Grant program, said the center will use the "master-teacher" approach. Teachers will be trained as part of their continuing education and will pass on their knowledge to other teachers.

"It’s important that the teachers have a good understanding of the science in order to be able to teach it," Grifman said. "Our 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."

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 Web site will have real-time links to weather and monitoring stations and include free curricula that can be downloaded and applied in the classroom.

"We can’t take everyone to the beach, but we can bring the beach to the classroom," Grifman said.

Contact: Usha Sutliff at (213) 740-0252.