Alaska teachers strengthen science education with help from Alaska Sea Grant

June 27, 2017

group of people examining scientific sample Teachers play the role of students on a field trip. Photo by Peggy Cowan.

Alaska Sea Grant helped sponsor a workshop for teachers in the Alaska capital in June as part of its mission to promote marine literacy.

Ten teachers from Juneau and Cordova gathered at Lena Point where the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) fisheries facility is located. They were there for a curriculum-writing workshop led by Marilyn Sigman and Peggy Cowan. An associate professor at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Sigman also serves as Alaska Sea Grant’s marine education specialist. Cowan is a former director of the UAF “Sea Week” program and former superintendent of the Juneau School District.

The workshop goal was to write lesson plans for Alaska Sea Grant’s Alaska Seas and Watersheds curriculum. The K–8 curriculum was developed by Alaska teachers in partnership with Alaska Sea Grant to provide teaching resources with high-quality content focused on marine science topics.

a group of adults in a classroomMarilyn Sigman (left) and participants at the teachers workshop. Photo by Peggy Cowan.

“This curriculum was last revised by teachers in 2009 to be aligned with Alaska’s state science standards and to be available online. The task this time was to align with new national standards for science that include technology and engineering, and new state standards for math, English and language arts. In addition, we asked teachers to emphasize place-based content, including connections to local Alaska Native cultures,” Sigman said.

The lesson plans developed at the workshop are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, a national effort to improve content and the way science is taught in K–12 classrooms. In addition to learning about current marine research and writing lesson plans, the teachers piloted field-trip teaching activities at low tide on a Juneau beach on the last day of the workshop.

notes on a giant sheet of paperPlanning curriculum updates. Photo by Peggy Cowan.

The field trip lessons will be used in Juneau and Cordova during Sea Week, the popular marine literacy program for K-8 students that originated in Juneau more than 40 years ago and evolved into the statewide Alaska Seas and Watersheds program. Beginning in the 1980s, Alaska Sea Grant expanded Juneau’s tradition statewide, continuing to emphasize field trips along with the use and celebration of the local environment and community partnerships to teach science and other subjects.

Four of seven Juneau School District teachers who participated in the June workshop were “second-generation” Sea Week-ers, having grown up doing Sea Week field trips every year during elementary school in Juneau, Hoonah, or Angoon. Three of the four teachers were Alaska Natives, members of the Tlingit tribe.

Hans Chester, who works as an Indian studies specialist, was among them. Chester emphasized the importance of integrating culture into education.

two people on a rock covered in kelpMarilyn Sigman (left) and a teacher examine the beach at low tide. Photo by Peggy Cowan.

“Designing lesson plans that incorporate the cultural backgrounds of Alaska students is a powerful way to engage and teach them. Culture is everything we have, think and do as members of a society,” Chester said.

Other workshop participants included educators from community partners—a Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery in Juneau and the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova—who sponsor and provide Sea Week field trips.

The final lesson plans will be integrated into curricula in Juneau and Cordova school districts. The lessons will also be made available to teachers statewide through the Alaska Seas and Watersheds website and through professional development workshops that Alaska Sea Grant holds throughout the state.

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.