My new land-to-sea connection

Even if you don’t live by the ocean you should care about it and issues associated with its health. Yes, the ocean ecosystem is unhealthy. Industry, industry, and more industry popped up in the last century and brought with it increased emissions into the atmosphere causing climate change. The ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet and is taking the hardest hit.

It’s out of sight and out of mind for most people and that’s understandable. I’ve shared reason why we should care about the ocean here, here, here, here, here, and …. I could go on and on. But, it’s truly going to be a personal connection that’s going to make anyone have an impact on actions that can restore the health of the ocean. But, are we really close to the sea even if’s we live in … say, the Midwest? I just moved to Oak Park, IL right outside of Chicago so that was a question I struggled with as I made the move. How can I leave the ocean? Well, I’m not actually. We are all connected!

Illustrating proximity to the sea is a starting point to recognizing this connection. I’m so grateful for the Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum
The Great Lakes Ecosystem
for these illustrations for my new home (I took the illustrations and made a quick gif below).

It’s no longer the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) for me. Now to accurately follow the path of water from the top point of the Great Lakes Flow to the Atlantic Ocean it’s SMHEO (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario). Eeeeekkk … SMHEO isn’t as neatly sounding.

The movement of creating awareness to the ocean even though you’re living far from it is known as “land-to-sea” stewardship. I’ve lived along the Atlantic coast my entire life so this Midwest vibe is so new and exciting that I’m officially having to give a name to my connection to the sea now. One organization that I’ve stumbled upon doing great work in Colorado is the Inland Ocean Coalition, a project of the Ocean Foundation. Can’t wait to be a part of how they expand to the Great Lakes region!

My favorite part about the land-to-sea movement is that even if you didn’t grow up near the ocean it causes a reason to learn about it and understand it’s importance to the larger ecosystem.

How did ‘Take a Child Outside’ Week get started?

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If I had to nail down three themes for this blog I would say marine science, ocean conservation, and environmental education would encompass all 406 posts. This one is dedicated to environmental education and more specifically a new initiative that I am a strong advocate for – not only one week out of the year – but, everyday! This is the first year of the program ‘Take a Child Outside‘ Week (September 24 – 30 annually), an initiative of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) and is held in cooperation with partner organizations across the U.S. and Canada. I’ll certainly be participating in the movement as a parent (as I do most days because we’re lucky enough to live off a beautiful county park in Northern Virginia – as a matter of fact, my daughter’s pudgy little hand is above!), but wanted to do a little more about spreading the word before the last weekend of ‘Take a Child Outside’ so I am blogging about it.

‘Take a Child Outside’ Week is set up to dissolve barriers that inhibit children from exploring the natural world. Ultimately, the goal is to share resources and ideas with parents, teachers, and other adults to help children across the country develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment, as well as foster enthusiasm for exploring outside.

My angle for this one was easy. Since its in the first year I was curious how ‘Take a Child Outside’ Week was conceived. I brought in a former Florida Atlantic University graduate school classmate and one of the smartest and hardest working individuals I am lucky enough to know, Beth Cranford, who also happens to be an educator at NCMNS. She tracked down how the program got started from Liz Baird, Director of Education for NCMNS.

Question: Who came up with this idea of ‘Take a Child Outside’ Week?

Liz Baird: I came up with the idea one night in the spring after meeting Richard (Louv) during his book tour. He had spent the morning with several Museum staff at our field station. We shared stories of being outside as children, and it made me think about what we could do to connect kids with the outdoors. The Museum staff members are extraordinarily skilled at getting people excited about nature, and being outside, and I knew there must be a way to share that enthusiasm. As I was walking my dog one beautiful spring evening I saw the glow of the television screens behind closed doors, but no children outside. I thought to myself “There is a national “Turn off the TV week” – what if there was a national “Take A Child Outside” week?”

I ran the idea by Richard Louv and he was so excited he wrote about it in his column in the San Diego Sun Times. At that point we did not have a website, or even a date set! There is nothing like getting calls from across the U.S. from folks that want to join you in a project to make the project happen! We received some funds from the non-profit support group of the Museum, hired a GIS savvy web firm and began promoting ‘Take a Child Outside’. We really thought this would be a small, North Carolina based pilot year, but the concept has caught on and we have partners across the U.S.

I also wanted to share Beth’s thought on the importance of ‘Take a Child Outside’ Week. She says, “It seems that children today are spending less time outside exploring nature than they have in past generations. And I know how important it was for me to play outside as a kid. Added on top of that, research shows that spending time outside as a child helps form adults who make environmentally responsible decisions”.

I’d like to send an enormous wealth of appreciation and gratitude to Beth for coordinating this information – Thank you!

Want to get involved? Here is a link of fantastic ideas to spark your imagination as you ‘Take a Child Outside’.

Playing well with others? Dissecting the tension between the scientist-educator community

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”.
Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) German-Swiss-U.S. scientist

 “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions”.
Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 – 2009) French anthropologist and ethnologist

“Those that can’t do, teach”.

It’s unfortunate, but the last phrase above affected my psyche as a child and young adult. I felt that I should go into science and prove that I could ‘do’. I am glad that I did because I’ve spent a decade doing various levels of field and laboratory work (or more recently overseeing grants of those doing field work and then I get to promote their work). It wasn’t until recently that I’ve began to embrace my desire to teach marine science to the masses. If you’ve been following my blog, Beach Chair Scientist, this can be illustrated – hopefully – in the increased quality of content that I’ve become committed to presenting in the past few months. All the while, I kept coming back to why I didn’t go in this direction in the beginning of my career and remembered that it was because I wanted to be seen as someone who could ‘do’. Boy, is that a regret! I have come to realize that non-formal education and all forms of teaching are ‘doing’ and we should all embrace the significant role of teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators play in our society.

Teachers are often our first connection to the big, expansive, beautiful world. Rejecting teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators because it seems as though they ‘play with kids all day’ or ‘invent games and just make PowerPoint presentations’ is irreverent. We become teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators because there is an inexplicable piece within all of us, not to find the answers or pose a question, but rather see “understanding wash over a child” or adult. Our moment of ‘eureka’ and validation is not when we’ve been published, but is centered on sharing the natural world and illuminating connections that may not have been obvious to others.

It seems as though there is a tension when teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators try to gain access to the science department for new knowledge. I can understand that no one wants to part with their work and have someone treat it as their own. But, I don’t think anyone believes that is the case. The relationship between the scientist and those promoting the data (teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators) should be constantly cultivated and sharing findings should be part of the process. I am glad that there is a new generation of scientists learning to engage the public with the use of social media to share findings and learn from other.

But, dare I say that it seems like pulling teeth when anyone that is trained to deal with the public tries to promote findings and interpret and translate scientific information? There are many wonderful organizations (e.g., COMPASS) dedicated to teaching scientists how to connect their science to the wider world, but connecting with nearby neighbors (i.e., coworkers) is vital and builds upon respect for one another. Teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators should be seen as an extension of the news media. Often we get creative with our translations of scientific findings and the news media will cover the interpretation rather than read an abstract. Teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators are highly trained with working with all different audiences. Furthermore, we’re well versed in techniques to filter, spin, coordinate, and share data appropriately (i.e., infographics or demonstrations in classrooms).

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the topic. Recently, I posed the question “Is the scientist-educator/communicator relationship one of a) love-hate tension, b) complete mutual respect, c) neither, or d) both a and b?” on Twitter and Facebook. Comments we’re few and far between most leaning towards b and d.

Related posts:

Dear Online Science Writing Community: A reminder for ‘call to actions’ because your perspective is priceless

Dear Online Science Writing Community: A reminder for ‘call to actions’ because your perspective is priceless

Journalists and colleagues are not the only ones reading your blog posts. The internet is home to where our nation’s kids are uncovering the answers to homework. But, they are also using the internet to learn more on what sparked their curiosity whilst investigating the world beyond-the-monitor. As an unanticipated consequence your amazing fact-filled posts, peppered with personal experience, are inspiring a new generation into fields in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). It does not seem as though this is news to anyone since the response to the contributions of ‘This is What a Scientist Looks Like’ is amazing! More to my point – I ask you – the estimable Online Science Writing Community – to take advantage of the influence you have on the impressionable youths of this wonderful planet while sharing your knowledge online. Like it or not – they’re reading, but the good news is that they’re remembering and sharing what they read.

Sure your research is sent off to decisions makers to be reviewed. What if we also cut out the middle man and used your own voice to affect change? You’ve exposed surprising evidence that things we could do or don’t do day-to-day would vastly improve our lives and give our planet a more sustainable future. I’d be so much more apt to listen to a blogger than someone who was telling me that I had to do something because it’s now a law or a mandate. Even if this is something that you already do from time-to-time – keep doing it because your perspective is priceless. And if you don’t – why not?

Much of the advice that Nancy Baron proposed to scientists interested in sharing their knowledge in her book, A Guide to Making Your Science Matter: Escape from the Ivory Tower, would translate well when communicating to, not only journalists and policy makers, but also teenagers, young adults, and the curious non-STEM professional public. For instance, “start thinking about what the journalist and his or her audience needs from you: clear, concise, conversational answers“, “Stepping outside your comfort zone to reach can have tremendous payoffs“, and “While dealing with backlash is no fun, many scientists agree that the end result is often worthwhile“.

Yes, this might mean you have to come up with a pseudonym because a grant would be pulled if you were contradicting a sponsor. But, often times having an opinion can be harmless.  Take the opportunity to not only feed the public’s thirst for education with with your own personal style, but also make gentle suggestions to mold the young audience into becoming environmentally-responsible citizen. My hidden agenda might not be much of a surprise here, but I am asking you – the Online Science Writing Community – to be an influential part the environmental education (EE) movement.

What is environmental education? To me, environmental education is a holistic approach of science in practicality. But, here are some more comprehensive definitions that encompass the concept.

  • Colorado Association of Environmental Education: Environmental education is a life-long learning process that increases awareness about the environment and its systems while developing critical-thinking skills that enable responsible decision-making.
  • Program, Classroom Earth: Environmental education is the process, activities and experiences—across disciplines—that lead students to have a greater understanding of how the earth’s resources and natural systems work and interact with each other and with human-made systems.
  • Program, Common Circle: Environmental education teaches people about the natural world and how their actions may affect it. This learning may take place in a formal classroom setting or the term may be used more broadly to describe efforts to inform the public about ecosystems and sustainable living.

Given also that the 5 principles of EE are awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation (Tbilisi Declaration, 1997), it would seem as though any blogger with a bio that integrates 1) why you are passionate about your STEM field, 2) what led you to that field, and 3) how you’ve made an impact on the field would therefore be the perfect person to continue to share important outcomes to readers for the all-inclusive EE approach. I understand that often research cannot be shared until published, but I can say that I would be much more apt to make personal decisions about my day-to-day life from the responsible people that conducted the research rather from those that regurgitated it.

Thank you to all of the hard working scientists that share your lab and field adventures online. I will continue to be amazed by your dedication and conviction. You have a unique voice and a head full of ideas worth sharing. You have the ability to affect change and I remind you to take advantage of it.

“The ideal scientist thinks like a poet, works like a clerk, and writes like a journalist.” – E.O. Wilson

It’s not what vision is, it’s what vision does.” Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution

What inspired you to become an environmental educator?

Some form of this question is probably the question I get the most often on BCS. It is usually a bit more blunt, “Why do you do your Beach Chair Scientist?” or “What made you come up with the idea?” It is simple. I was sitting in a web design class at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and the term Beach Chair Scientist popped into my brain.

It was the summer and I had just returned from a trip home where I went to the beach and some of my family from Philly (Go, Phils!) continually tried to stump me with interesting beach questions. They know I have a B.S. degree (insert joke) in marine sciences so I really was the best person to ask. But, what I discovered was that I love to make the answers entertaining and somehow less intimidating (This type of environmental education somehow coined ‘edu-tainment’). I thought if I started the blog they would be able to shoot me the questions all year round, even when I am not at the beach with them. I used to teach outdoors to people about the environment for a salary (and housing). Now, I just teach people about fisheries data from an office. The blog was my outlet.

I do want to pay homage to all those who do work tirelessly teaching people about the environment. It is often a thankless, over-worked and under-paid bunch of people. People with more enthusiasm than one could ever imagine. Environmental education has many various facets and is often difficult to define. But, the one constant of anyone in the field is heart and dedication. I love you all!

I decided to ask a few of these wonderful environmental educators the same question people ask me “What inspired you to become an environmental educator?” Here are their answers. Thanks to everyone that contributed.

  • “I always wanted to make a difference. Environmental education allows me to make a difference by combining my love of nature and my ability to communicate with people.” Kate Anderson, ___ @ ___ in somwhere, MA.
  • “EE is a way for me to share one of my passions (the environment) with people and make a positive difference towards the future at the same time.” Beth Jones Cranford, Summer Camp Coordinator @ Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill, NC
  • “I have always loved nature and sharing it with others.” Travis Davis, Education Director @ Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, N.J.
  • “I LOVE sharing my passion for science with others!” Laura Diederick, Marine Education Specialist @ Smithsonian Marine Station, Fort Pierce, FL
  • “I wanted to help conserve all of Mother Nature’s bounty and you cannot obtain conservation without education and vice versa.” Kristi Martin Moyer, Facilities and Land Manager @ Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach, FL
  • “Ranger program at Rocky Mountain National Park in 4th Grade.” Katie Navin, Program Coordinator with the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education in Golden, CO
  • “I want to humans to have less of an impact on the Earth!” Leslie Sprague, Director of Education @ the San Antonio Children’s Museum in San Antonio, TX
  • “I think my inspiration came from my love of teaching and working with kids which I discovered in college combined with my love of being outdoors as a kid. The two came together when I “found” EE at Pine Jog. Oh, and hope I have made a difference (if only a small one!).” Susan Toth, Education Director @ Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach, FL

To me it seems that one answer is clear: What inspires us to keep doing what we are doing is because we love it.

Image (c) agreenerindiana.com