Dr. Johanna Rosman, left, with the Institute for Marine Sciences, sits with a group of teachers as grad student Jie Gao pours different colored batches of water into each other at different temperatures to illustrate salinity levels on Thursday at the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores during SCIREN, a scientific research and education network seminar. (Dylan Ray photo)

PINE KNOLL SHORES — Science has found a new way into local classrooms, fresh from the source, thanks to the second annual Science Research and Education Network event, SciREN, hosted Thursday night at the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. 

Organized by a group of local university students, 120 educators got the chance to speak with locals from the marine community, while grabbing lesson plans and classroom-ready materials. 

“This is about bringing that focus back to science in our classrooms,” said Kerry Irish UNC Institute of Marine Science communications and outreach coordinator. “It really provides for those teachers who have many other things to cover, or are unsure on a topic, or simply just don’t have the materials and time to cover areas of interest.”

Arrayed as a science fair for professionals, teachers had the chance to stroll the aquarium connecting with researchers studying topical interests on the Crystal Coast. 

The event, co-sponsored by the UNC IMS and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment Duke Marine Lab, expanded to run the length of the aquarium this year. 

Eighty area scientists showcased booths with their studies, furnishing educators with pre-made lesson plans and experiment ideas. 

“There is an interest in scientists in getting their science out to the public,” said SciREN founder Ethan Theuerkauf. “So I think something like this … makes it efficient to come to one place and talk to a lot of teachers.” 

Booths and topics included marine parasitology by Joe Morton, marine protected areas by Stacy Zhang, remotely operated vehicles by N.C. Science House representative Patrick Curley and more.  

“I really wanted to gather some lesson plans and activities I can use in the classroom,” said Patricia Rodriguez, a biology teacher at Croatan High School. “Mainly, because what I’ve found is when I present (the students) with peer-reviewed articles and things that are locally based, they have a greater interest. It makes it relevant for them.”

Area researchers providing real-time data and information gathering from areas students are familiar with spike interest she said, connecting students who might otherwise show disinterest in the sciences. 

“It’s worth my time to come to these events,” said Maria Ostendorff, a seventh grade life science teacher at Ravenscroft private school in Raleigh. “I was looking for things that we could incorporate in our science in Raleigh … we have all kinds of water issues going on there right now.”

In January, a handful of the scientists attended a teacher-led workshop, aimed at information sharing to aid in the construction of classroom materials. 

“They were really responsive. They listened to us and then went back to their homes and did all of the hard work and produced the lesson plan,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who assisted with the January seminar. “It was just seamless.”

The evening seeks to enrich the student experience, while relieving the burden of educators to become experts in all fields, said Ms. Irish, by instead utilizing the existing scientific community.

Ms. Rodriguez said she found several activities over the course of the event that mesh well with state biology standards she has to instruct on anyway. 

“I’m excited to just throw it at them and say ‘test drive this. Tell me what you think,’” she said. 

Beyond providing for educators, the event focuses on creating relationships between area teachers and scientist. 

“It’s kind of a win-win for scientist and teachers,” said Charles Bangley, a researcher and PhD student at Eastern Carolina University. “The scientist, we get more outreach for our research projects and then teachers, they need all the help they can get.”

Mr. Bangley who works on shark tagging project out of ECU, prepped a lesson using the shark’s locator pings to allow high schoolers to study the migration patterns and movements of several species, and explore the environmental impact of the creatures.

“(This) is a great way to really bridge that gap between research and the teaching of the science,” he said. 

Local marine biologist and business owner, Jess Hawkins, came out to SciREN to spread the word to teachers about his Crystal Coast Ecotours and field trip opportunities he could provide. 

“What better way (to educate) than to let teachers know what’s available to them,” he said. “We raised our kids here, the schools system is great. What a great idea to try and connect future generations with the marine labs and the government institutions here.”

The opportunities to meet and greet, supplying teachers with possible classroom visitors and field trip options are a valuable aspect to SciREN, organizers said.  

“I love to go to these workshops because of the networking. You get good materials, but talking to other teachers is just invaluable,” said Ms. Ostendorff. 

Mr. Theuerkauf partnered with UNC IMS PhD student Justin Ridge last year to host the first SciREN as a viable connector between the disciplines.

‘It was a real effort to let people know we have a very science-rich area right here, in Carteret County,” said Ms. Irish. 

As for the pilot event and the locals that attend, the show will go on next year with SciREN 2015.

Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.

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