Boothbay region students dive into ocean science at Bigelow Laboratory

Bigelow Laboratory researchers worked with teachers at the Boothbay Region Elementary School to design an action-packed learning experience for a class of fourth graders to teach them about the important ocean science research happening in their hometown.
Wed, 04/17/2024 - 12:00pm

Not many school children can say they have a world-class research institution just down the road, especially not in rural Maine. But the students at Boothbay Region Elementary School in Boothbay Harbor can. On April 10, a group of more than 30 fourth graders and their teachers from BRES visited Bigelow Laboratory’s oceanside campus. The day of learning was made possible by longstanding relationships between Bigelow Laboratory and the local community with most of the researchers living in the region and many having children in local schools. The hands-on tour provided the scientists with an opportunity to expose the students to the cutting-edge, globally important ocean science research happening in their backyard.

“It was a really great day all around, and I’ve received so many positive comments from the children and parents of those who attended,” said Senior Research Scientist Rachel Sipler, who helped facilitate the visit.

Students spent the morning at the institute, touring the state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, meeting with different researchers, and engaging in fun learning activities in accordance with Maine State Learning Standards.

Guided by community members who generously volunteer their time as institute docents, the students toured the lab in small groups, with a stop by the autonomous gliders that researchers have used to monitor conditions across the Gulf of Maine. They also got to check out the vast and diverse collection of algae held by the institute’s National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota.

Sipler showed the students an interactive watershed model, helping them better understand the importance of preserving watersheds from pollution. They even got to learn more about the microscopic organisms that live deep below the seafloor, both in terms of their value to the larger ecosystem and what they’re teaching scientists about potential life on other planets.

Working with fourth grade BRES teachers, Lenore Imhof and Jen Lassen, the team ensured students felt empowered in their learning and got a taste of what it means to be a scientist. In addition to trying out scientific “experiments” like extracting DNA from strawberries, the children were given notebooks to document their observations and translate what they were learning into art and diagrams.

 “Together, Jen and I have over 60 years of teaching experience so we know first hand the value of connecting students to the resources in their community and forging relationships that will inspire and sustain them throughout their academic and professional careers,” Imhof said. “Having an internationally-recognized research institute just fifteen minutes away with researchers who are willing to graciously welcome the students and create this educational experience for them in line with the curriculum was a win for everyone.”

For the students, this was a valuable opportunity to learn more about their coastal home, get a glimpse of the exciting world of scientific research, and learn about potential careers in science. For Bigelow Laboratory, these kinds of visits are an opportunity to further the relationship with neighbors and serve as a hub of community learning and scientific collaboration. Those activities will get a major boost next spring with a 25,000-square-foot laboratory addition, currently under construction, that includes dedicated teaching space, classrooms, and a multipurpose 300-seat forum.

“As the clerk at Walgreens said as I told him why I had bought a solid portion of their stock of isopropyl alcohol for the day’s activities, 'you never know what will inspire someone,'” said Education Coordinator Evan Henerberry. “I believe yesterday will be an inspiration for many students’ fascination with science and the ocean.”