EPSCoR, Cooperative Extension demonstrate Maine-themed science toolkits

In 2014, a small group of students, faculty and staff from Maine EPSCoR and University of Maine Cooperative Extension discussed the possibility of creating a suite of marine science curricula to distribute in classrooms across the state.

Over the years, this seed of an idea has grown into a set of nationally recognized, hands-on science toolkits.

Each toolkit — a tub full of curriculum packets and supplies — contains lessons that are universally designed and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards to maximize their impact and accessibility. The kits are mobile and available for use statewide in classrooms, 4-H and Scout groups, and with extracurricular programs. Lesson plans and activities also can be found on UMaine Extension’s digital resource portal.

Members of the original design team, including Maine EPSCoR outreach and program manager Laurie Bragg, 4-H youth development professional Carla Scocchi, and 4-H science professionals Laura Wilson and Sarah Sparks, collaboratively developed lessons and pilot-tested the kits in classrooms throughout Maine.

The first toolkit, Exploring Marine Science and Aquaculture, recently was approved by the national 4-H certifying board. It’s the first set of aquaculture-related curriculum to earn national-level recognition. The Science of Seaweed toolkit also has been awarded certification by 4-H national peer review.

“Receiving certification with National 4-H peer review demonstrates that these aquaculture units have met rigorous standards of quality and integrity related to content and are at appropriate youth development levels,” says Sparks.

Sparks, Bragg, and Scocchi will present the toolkits at the end of June during an “Introducing Marine Science” session at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Portland, Maine. This year’s conference, “On Land and Sea,will welcome farmers and educators from across the nation and showcase Maine’s rich agricultural heritage.

The design team will introduce key concepts, lead lesson demonstrations, and offer advice for building partnerships between organizations and educational institutions. The goal is to highlight the power of using Maine’s natural resources as a way to introduce key science concepts.

The team also hopes to reach far beyond the state’s geographic bounds.

“With this curriculum, we’re empowering teachers from across the nation with the ability to teach about marine science and aquaculture. They don’t have to be near the ocean or want to grow their own seaweed to benefit from these lessons,” says Bragg. “That’s the beauty of the toolkits. They provide teachers with everything they need to demonstrate the concepts without having to go anywhere with students.”

Instead, the design team will do the traveling. Following the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, the team will host an interactive workshop at the National 4-H Leadership Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The team will share insights on how to develop curriculum and create lasting partnerships with local, state and federal agencies.

“This partnership allows us to engage youth with relevant, leading-edge research, such as in marine science and aquaculture. Now we have the opportunity to share these educational resources with a larger audience and expose even more youth to the incredible science happening right here in Maine,” says Scocchi.

This work, part of SEANET’s ongoing aquaculture research, is funded by the National Science Foundation and Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine. For more information about the toolkits, visit the UMaine Extension website.

Contact: Laurie Bragg, 207.581.2295