What do you get when you mix young students, deep-sea animals and marsh mud? Well, the result is what happens every year at Ocean Commotion, an annual educational outreach event for local area students held at Louisiana State University (LSU). On October 27, 2015, Louisiana Sea Grant hosted its 18th annual Ocean Commotion where over 1,800 K-8th grade students descended upon LSU to learn about the wonders of the ocean. The primary purpose of Ocean Commotion is to teach and expose students to all the organisms and resources in the coastal region and Gulf of Mexico.
Swarms of students traveled from table to table playing games, making crafts, and soaking in all the science information that was being thrown at them in the LSU Pete Maravich Assembly Center. From touching preserved deep-water specimens, like the Blob fish, to seeing a life size blue whale, 70 different exhibits and activities kept students busy all day.
Public outreach and community engagement is crucial to inform the public about both local and global science issues. It’s a way for scientists to consistently engage with the public about science in a fun, interactive manner. For many scientists participating in educational outreach programs is motivated by a desire to contribute to society, a need to incorporate service-learning projects into their work and for purely fun and enjoyment. Additionally, it is a great way for graduate students and researchers to improve their communication and teaching skills.
A variety of Gulf coast-wide and local agencies, non-profit organizations and LSU programs held individual activities for all students to explore coastal and marine ecosystems. Organizations included the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) with their activity called “How to Build Your Own Barrier Island” and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service program titled “Elasmobranchs for Your Brain.”
Traveling over three hours to attend the event, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) contractors Arianne Huddleston and Jennifer McDonald were enthusiastic to spend their day introducing a younger audience to the wonders of sea turtles, sharks and all the research NOAA works on. “Public outreach is critical for an organization like NOAA because involving the public is the only way we will be able to accomplish our mission,” said McDonald. NOAA’s mission is to ensure the stewardship our nation’s marine resources and ecosystems and connecting with a younger audience is crucial to the continuation and protection of our marine habitats. “Also, there is always one or two kids that have that special light come into their eyes, and you know they’ve found a passion,” said Huddleston.
For a younger audience, sometimes outreach tools have to get a little creative. LSU’s Coast and Environment Graduate Organization (CEGO), a group of 19 dedicated graduate students, escaped their laboratory and office worlds to spend a day teaching kids about our coast and sea. Their activities ranged from “Mr. Ray’s Zones of the Ocean” to “Who eats Whom,” an activity focusing on explaining varying trophic levels and food webs. Jackie McCool, CEGO President, is a dedicated Ocean Commotion volunteer and participant since 2011. “One of the things I love most about Ocean Commotion is how interested the kids are about the marine world. It’s so fun to get out of the lab and talk to young people…and you can see you’re helping to foster a love for the natural world with some of them,” said McCool.
Ocean Commotion continues to be a popular event among the local Baton Rouge schools and organizations, becoming more successful each year. “Science is so much more than being in a lab all day or working at a computer. A huge part is engaging with all ages of the public to teach new scientific findings and trying to foster a passion for science,” said McCool. Scientific outreach events such as Ocean Commotion help stimulate awareness about our natural ecosystems and help develop future relationships to protect our rich coastal resources.
Click here if you are interested in other community outreach programs sponsored by the Education Division of Louisiana Sea Grant.
By Kristin Foss