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Kodiak Laboratory Launches Ocean Science Discovery Lab

“To advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce in ocean, coastal, Great Lakes, weather, and climate sciences, encouraging stewardship and increasing informed decision making for the Nation.” This is the mission statement in NOAA’s outreach and education strategic plan as mandated in the America COMPETES Act in part to enhance public awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the oceans.

The Kodiak Laboratory at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center (KFRC) in Kodiak, Alaska, is embracing NOAA’s outreach and education mission with a new initiative called the Kodiak Ocean Science Discovery Lab (OSDL). In close cooperation with the Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD), the OSDL program was launched in 2009 to improve science education by bringing place-based, hands-on learning from the science community to the classroom. Dr. Switgard Duesterloh, an AFSC contractor and KIBSD part-time employee, is leading the OSDL efforts.

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Fourth grade Kodiak students look at diatoms under a microscope and learn about their function in the ecosystem.


Of particular significance in the OSDL program is the diverse cross section of students that the program will influence. Kodiak is home to one of the largest commercial fishing ports in the United States and as such supports a diverse community of harvesters and processors with origins throughout the world. Kodiak is home to the largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the country, supported by personnel whose families represent all corners of the Nation. Kodiak Island also boasts a growing tourist industry bringing interest in the marine environment from all parts of the world as exemplified by the more than 12,000 visitors to the aquarium at the KFRC in 2009. Therefore, the OSDL has an opportunity to bring ocean literacy and a fisheries focus to a broad, diverse student community.

Program Components

The Elementary Program – Kodiak students in grades 3-5 are introduced to marine plants and animals during field trips to the OSDL, the KFRC aquarium, and the KFRC Seawater Facility. In close cooperation with KIBSD teachers, OSDL science lessons are designed to strengthen the grade level curriculum by integrating and reinforcing required learning contents with exciting hands-on learning.

The third and fourth grade curriculum addresses the Food Web. Kodiak students learn about trophic levels at various stations set up in the OSDL. They learn about sunlight as the energy source for all plant life, take a peek at diatom cells under a microscope, and sort through local seaweeds. At a zooplankton station, they use stereomicroscopes to look at fixed and live plankton samples and study how a plankton splitter works. At the invertebrate and fish station, they observe and touch filter feeders, grazers, and predators of the local intertidal environment and handle Tanner and king crabs. University of Alaska faculty participate in the OSDL curriculum by explaining how sea lions, seals, and whales feed, and provide skulls, teeth, and baleen for the students to explore. To summarize the unit, students are given photographs of local marine life and are asked to assemble food chains, then to find links between food chains to demonstrate the web of life.

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Kodiak students learn about coastal organisms in the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center touch tank maintained by AFSC staff.

Fifth grade students are introduced to scientific experimentation. Classes are divided into small groups, and each group receives two sea stars. Students learn about the biology of sea stars, radial symmetry, and the properties of echinoderms. After instruction on performing righting experiments with their sea stars, students learn to make predictions and are asked to predict which sea star will turn over the fastest according to species and size. Students then take radial measurements, record their data, and measure the time their sea stars take to right themselves. From their measurements, students calculate averages. Data from all groups are compiled in a data table and charted in an XY-scatterplot. The unit concludes with a discussion of the results, the data range, and factors that might influence the outcome of the experiment.

After concentrated learning in the OSDL, classes often visit the KFRC aquarium and touch tank where students are provided hands-on learning about local marine organisms such as sea anemones, fishes, crabs, snails, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. They are also given tours of the research facilities where they learn about ongoing NOAA Fisheries research and sometimes shake a tentacle with the KFRC pet octopus.

In its first year, the OSDL program provided lessons in marine science to over 450 elementary students. With them, an estimated 100 teachers and parents participated. Seventeen local scientists and naturalists from NMFS, the Kodiak Island Borough, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the University of Alaska, and the community at large volunteered their time and expertise for student outreach at the various activities in the OSDL.

The Middle School Program – Development of a middle school program is a high priority for the 2010-11 school year. Suggestions include alteration of existing science curricula to include scheduled visits from scientists to the classroom, with a long-term vision of a science week where all eighth grade students visit the OSDL on three consecutive days to design, conduct, and summarize their own scientific experiments, with the opportunity for an after-school marine science club, a summer camp, and marine science summer courses.

The High School Program – The OSDL supports Kodiak High School by providing interaction with scientists at the OSDL for students enrolled in the oceanography class and those participating in the annual Ocean Science Bowl. In addition to literature research, technical writing, public presentation, and textbook content the class will study more advanced scientific topics with local scientists such as sampling, sample processing, and experimentation.

The Marine Inspired Art Program – Reaching out to the community, the OSDL in cooperation with the Kodiak Arts Council offered three combined science lectures and art workshops in 2009. The activities started with a 15- minute lecture about the biology and ecology of a featured marine animal and an opportunity for participants to see and touch the animal. Participants were then invited to a workshop where they created the featured animal from a prepared set of materials. Marine Inspired Art workshops were well accepted in the community by participants from ages 1 to 65.

By Switgard Duesterloh and Robert Foy



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