Marine mammals arouse young people's interest in science
By involving them in research on marine mammals, an EU-funded project is arousing young people's interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It aims to ensure that Europe has sufficient talent in STEM subjects - essential to remaining competitive globally.
© nightsphotos #186246584 2019, source:stock.adobe.com
Interest in STEM subjects among young people has been declining for several years, leading to fewer people pursuing scientific careers. Europe faces a potential shortage of talented specialists in research and jobs that require such skills.
To reverse this trend and encourage young people to take up science-related careers, the EU-funded MARINE MAMMALS project has been developing training courses for teachers and summer schools for school pupils aged 10-18, as well as bachelor and master students. The project focuses on marine mammals such as whales and seals to demonstrate that the framework can be used to arouse interest in other STEM subject areas.
The courses and summer schools are offered free of charge and enable participants to use project materials in cooperation with scientists helping them gain research experience. Schools can also borrow ‘expedition boxes’ containing tools and instructions for hands-on scientific activities within independent projects.
‘We have trained more than 270 students in summer schools run over 3 to 5 days in different countries, and more than 400 teachers in teacher training courses,’ says project coordinator Katrin Knickmeier of Kiel Science Factory in Germany. ‘Preliminary evaluation results show that teachers felt significantly more competent to address the topics after participating.’
Students also improved their awareness of what scientists do, Knickmeier adds. ‘They already knew that investigation is a major feature of science and they learned that it also involves a fair bit of management and creativity,’ she says. ‘Teachers and students got a better understanding of the purpose of science making new discoveries and more students realised that science is important for their future job prospects and were able to imagine taking up jobs in science.’
Ambassadors for oceans
The project team chose marine mammals as the topic as they are often seen as ‘ambassadors for oceans’ and are under threat from effects such as noise, chemical and plastic pollution, climate change and fisheries.
The teacher training and summer schools take place in four of the five participating countries Denmark, Germany, Poland and Sweden and on Corsica for participants from Belgium. The project involves nine scientific and educational research institutes plus NGOs.
Teachers learn about the biology and ecology of marine mammals and how human activities affect them during lectures and practical work. Topics include diving physiology, acoustics, interactions with fisheries, plastics in the ocean and chemical pollution.
Students take part in activities such as investigation of noise pollution using underwater microphones, examination of porpoise skeletons, and exploring factors contributing to the stranding of whales.
In developing teaching materials, MARINE MAMMALS draws on and adapts existing content. The results are translated into all languages of the participating countries plus English and can be used in conjunction with national science curricula. They include worksheets on marine mammal physiology, a ‘name that sound’ acoustics exercise, noise mitigation, underwater microphone and porpoise skeleton-building experiments, and a live stream of a shipwreck.
The project is also creating digital teaching materials such as an interactive poster, 3D animations and podcasts to reach a broader audience and support development of activities for people of various backgrounds and ages.
In the podcasts, scientists talk about how they got into science, their daily work and research topics, and the approaches MARINE MAMMALS uses to stimulate students’ interest. This will help them discover what they should consider when choosing a career in science and the kind of things scientists do.
‘The teaching materials and 3D animations are already available on the MARINE MAMMALS webpage and will be published on the Scientix website and in a book in print and online versions,’ says Knickmeier.
With the project due to end in August 2019, the preparation of conferences for 200 pupils and teachers in each participating country is under way. Scheduled to take place in March and April 2019, these will be followed by a final conference in June 2019 to further disseminate the results.
As well as generating enthusiasm for STEM subjects, MARINE MAMMALS should increase the scientific literacy of society in general and empower more people to play active roles in a world driven by science and technology.