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Scientists, Teachers Connect at SciREN

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After visitors at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores had left for the day, the hallways came to life again on the evening of Feb. 27 for the eighth annual Scientific Research and Education Network, or SciREN, Coast event.

Researchers and educators from across North Carolina gathered among the fish, turtle and stingray exhibits to exchange lesson plans and learn about science organizations serving K-12 students.

More than 100 educators attended and had the opportunity to talk with 25 groups of science organizations and researchers, who presented lessons or programming that could be incorporated into classrooms, summer camps or after-school activities. Educators and researchers could also exchange contact information to discuss lessons or arrange classroom visits.

Researchers created the lesson plans based on their own areas of research to provide hands-on lessons that might not yet be available in a textbook. Prior to the event, SciREN hosted a lesson plan workshop for researchers to learn how to create an engaging activity that met North Carolina K-12 standards. Area teachers assisted researchers during the workshop.

One of the presented lesson plans aimed to teach students how animals use a magnetic sense to help them navigate and migrate, like sea turtles do in the ocean. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill graduate students Lewis Naisbett-Jones, Alayna Mackiewicz and Dana Lim created activities that require students to navigate using magnets and a compass.

Another activity, presented by University of North Carolina Chapel Hill graduate student Haley Plaas, taught students about the effects of excess nutrients, such as from stormwater runoff, on water quality. Her lesson instructs students to design their own experiment by obtaining water from any outdoor source, then add a chosen amount of nitrogen and phosphate and observe how much algae grow in the water.

Educators could also talk to organizations, such as Sturgeon City Institutes in Jacksonville and UNC Wilmington MarineQuest, to learn about opportunities for their students like field trips, science camps and after-school programs.

SciREN Coast is the original SciREN event, and SciREN has expanded to North Carolina’s Research Triangle and to Athens, Georgia. This year’s SciREN Coast was planned by a team of graduate students from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, or UNC IMS, and the Duke University Marine Lab. Mollie Yacano, a UNC IMS graduate student, led the team.

“It’s a good networking event not just for sharing lesson plans, but for getting researchers to present directly to students,” noted Adam Gold, a UNC IMS graduate student and member of the planning team.

By attending the event, educators could also gain access to an online database of lesson plans contributed by SciREN presenters.

About the Author

Sarah Loftus

Sarah Loftus moved to North Carolina in 2013 to experiment with algae at the Duke University Marine Lab. Her PhD research focused on algae cultivation for biotechnological applications like biofuel. During graduate school, Sarah blogged for Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and published in science media outlets. She also planned and participated in STEM outreach events for young women. Her undergraduate degree is in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University. Sarah lives in Beaufort.