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Future inspiration

Youth field school recognized for innovation in STEM education

special feature: Environment

Part of a special series showcasing faculty, staff and students’ commitment to placing the environment at the forefront of  research, public engagement and teaching and learning activities at Memorial.

By Kelly Foss

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Oceans Learning Partnership’s (OLP) Coastal Explorers field school has been named one of five winners of the second annual Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Innovative Education Award for innovation in youth programming and environmental STEM education.

The program was chosen from 120 applicants submitted from across North America and will receive a grant of $50,000 USD to expand their programs. Underwriters Laboratories is a global independent safety science company.

Oceans education

OLP is a collaborative initiative spanning the public and private sectors with an interest in enhancing oceans education in the province, as well as bridging the gap between the K-12 and post-secondary school systems.

Students with crab
Students use a dichotomous key to identify invertebrates.
Photo: David Howells

Along with Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and educational tour boat operator Coastal Connections, teachers and officials with the Department of Education, English School District and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association are collaborating on this groundbreaking initiative for the province.

Funding is provided by the Hebron Project, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Floating classroom

The OLP’s Coastal Explorers Field School operates a “floating classroom,” as well as shore-based and lab-based programming with program partners at four locations around the province — the Ocean Sciences Centre, Bonne Bay Marine Station, Terra Nova National Park and Holyrood — that give students in Newfoundland and Labrador the opportunity to become marine scientists for the day.

More than 2,700 students from 47 different schools across the province participated in OLP’s field programs at all four sites since fall 2013.

This summer the OLP, in partnership with the Department of Ocean Sciences, reached an additional 8,500 people through outreach programming, such as travelling touch tanks and special events like World Oceans Day.

“The money from this award prize will go back into the programming we do.” — Danielle Nichols

“It’s really exciting to be recognized for the work we’ve been doing,” said Danielle Nichols, research marketing manager, Department of Ocean Sciences.

“The money from this award prize will go back into the programming we do at all the sites, not just here at the Ocean Sciences Centre, and that will help the partner sites grow, but also help with future collaborative initiatives.”

Linking environmental focus

Developed in collaboration with the North American Association for Environmental Education, the Underwriters Laboratories Innovative Education Award is open to non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Canada that serve to motivate K-12 students about science and research through elementary-STEM programming and education about the environment.

Students participating in OLP's Coastal Explorers field school are given the opportunity to be marine scientists for the day.
Students participating in OLP’s Coastal Explorers field school are given the opportunity to be marine scientists for the day.
Photo: David Howells

The program annually invests $250,000 USD in grants for programs that demonstrate effective educational benefits and community engagement in linking an environmental focus to STEM education while fostering sustainable communities and youth empowerment. The intent is to support innovative organizations that are inspiring future researchers, scientists and problem-solvers.

Deep learning program

In addition to the OLP grant, four others were awarded this year, including a top prize of $100,000. An additional $50,000 grant was awarded along with two others of $25,000 each.

“We were impressed by how the winning projects encouraged youth to present the source of the problem and implications of the problem to various audiences and how they enabled youth to advocate for feasible solutions,” said Cara Gizzi, director, public safety education and outreach, Underwriters Laboratories.

“The judges noted that this year’s winning programs demonstrated the lasting returns on investing in sustained contact with the learners over months, as well as years. The winners are the ideal ‘deep learning’ programs that offer effective, meaningful, and measurable engagement in STEM learning that can be readily tracked over time.”

“We now have an opportunity to raise our profile in terms of integrating ocean sciences and technology in to STEM.” — Maria Giovaninni

In August, all five winning teams travelled to the Underwriters Laboratories campus in North Carolina for a leadership summit and presentation.

“It’s not just a recognition award, but the organization actually remains engaged with the recipients throughout the term of the award,” said Maria Giovaninni, project lead, OLP.

“They facilitate linkages across their network and there are over 40,000 educators in that network. So, we now have an opportunity to raise our profile in terms of integrating ocean sciences and technology in to STEM, both at the school level and the teacher professional level.”

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