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COSEE West Teacher Exchange 2011

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Five teachers from Colorado attended COSEE West’s Ocean Observing System workshop in August. Read about their experience visiting five different locations the week of their workshop. We will have another teacher exchange between Colorado and California in 2012. Visit for more information.  COSEE, Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence is supported by the National Science Foundation.  COSEE West is a partnership between the University of Southern California and University of California at Los Angeles. 

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Traveling to Los Angeles

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Chris having some fun at Santa Monica Pier after a day of travel

Our flight from DIA to LAX was uneventful. We located each other using Chris and his wonderful blue NASA uniform. He is a character with a story for every occasion! We had to wait several hours for hotel check-in so decided to explore the surrounding area. We found an In-n-Out Burger joint and had to partake. Yum! We discovered Venice Beach was not far from our location, so traveled to the beach to check it out. We were amazed to find mostly families crowding the beach and shoreline on what appeared to be a typical Sunday outing. (Where were all the unique characters that Venice Beach is famous for?) Took in a light supper and off to bed we went.

Let the Fun Begin! Day One: University of Southern California

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Team Colorado

Off to USC…a beautiful campus with lots of construction going on! Today we spent a good deal of time engaged in activities designed to introduce us to oceans and ocean literacy. Had an interesting presentation on ocean observing systems by Burt  Jones. The teachers participated in a really good jigsaw activity tying standards and concepts to ocean literacy. Following a brain-dizzying day of information we took off for La Brea Tar Pits. It’s so cool to think that this site began forming 40,000 years ago in a very different environment and now sits in the middle of one of the busiest human places on Earth. MaryAnn and Jennifer had to have a little hands-on experience with the tar when they stuck their fingers in a small bubbling pool. Yup…it’s tar…and I think it’s still on my sandals! We enjoyed a lovely Italian meal. Jennifer and MaryAnn even did a little wine-tasting. Hey, all work and no play makes for dull teachers!

Day Two: Adventures at Sea!

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Rodney peers off the bow of the Sea Explorer

Up bright and early so we can be at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor by 8am. Onboard the R/V Sea Explorer we were given a safety briefing and then we were out to sea to collect water samples off the coast. It was a beautiful clear day so we could see nothing but ocean and shoreline for miles. This was an awe-inspiring experience for a bunch of land-lubbers such as our Colorado group. Once offshore we collected water samples at the surface, 10 meters and 20 meters. We also collected zooplankton to examine when we got back to the harbor. Our ocean-going experience was short but wonderful! Wish we could spend all day on the water! Back at the Ocean Institute we conducted chemical tests on the water collected, examined zooplankton, and tried our hand at driving the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) aboard ship. We were given a tour of the facilities followed by an afternoon of ROV model building and data analysis. What a beautiful place the Ocean Institute is. It’s amazing how many visitors they host yearly…around 120,000! We couldn’t leave the area without exploring the local beach. Found a spot along Laguna Beach to park our car and away we went. Hiked down to the shore to explore some fabulous tide pools just loaded with organisms. Our resident geologist, David, gave us a wonderful explanation of the origin of the rocks and rock layers in the area. We ended our day with a fabulous meal of fish tacos and tostadas at La Brisas restaurant. We were served by Steve, a California native and recovering surfer! He was great! We watched the sunset from the cliffs of Laguna Beach. What a great way to end the day!

Day Three: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

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David scrambles on the rocks at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

This morning was a slightly shorter trip to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. By the way, did I mention Chris is our fabulous driver with help from navigators David and Rodney. They make a fabulous team. We have not been lost once and that infamous Southern California traffic has been unusually kind to us as we move about the area. We started the morning with a gallery walk around the aquarium identifying marine organisms…just like students would do when they come here. We were honored to have two great presentations, the first of which was on research using Ships of Opportunity Program (SOOP)by Carie Wolfe and the second on real-time water quality testing of the Port of LA by Adam from the Southern California Marine Institute. Both presentations were incredibly informative, giving some real-time data information that could be used by students for in-class instruction. We also went out to the harbor alongside the aquarium for our own water quality data collection, as well as participating in an ocean currents activity using some cool convection fluid. Gotta get some of that stuff for our classrooms! At the end of the afternoon we found ourselves wanting to check out more of the California shoreline, so we cruised along the coast until we found a likely spot to park the car. We ended up walking along the edge of Trump (as in Donald) National Golf Course. The golf course hosts public access trails to the beach below the golf course as part of its commitment to being environmentally friendly. The trails skirt the bluff and took us to the very rocky shore full of more tide pools. The beauty of the beach was somewhat offset by the trash along the shoreline. Darn humans, anyway! We were hoping to see dolphins or whales moving about in the nearby waters, but all we could locate was Catalina Island in the distant fog. We ended the day with another great meal at a local sushi/Peruvian restaurant recommended by one of the teachers in our CA group.

Day Four: Jet Propulsion Lab,the Famous JPL

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Team Colorado in Infrared

Jet Propulsion Lab here we come!! Moving inland we could feel the humidity drop and the temperature rise, but it still felt cool compared to the heat we’ve been experiencing in CO. After the extensive check-in at JPL (they are sticklers for identification details), we were led to a conference room and introduced to several JPL education/outreach personnel and scientists. Wow…did I say we were at JPL? One of the scientists, Jorge Vasquez, gave a fascinating presentation on how satellites have revolutionized our understanding of Earth. We were introduced to more websites that provide incredible sets of data that students could use to ask and answer questions related to oceans, weather, climate, and global changes. Zareh Gorjian, another JPL scientist showed us how video and animation is used to inform other scientists and the public, in general, about current research. During his presentation you could hear a pin drop. His video was rock star status. Hollywood has nothing on these guys! We were given a tour of the facilities which included a trip through their new education center. It had some great interactive stations from which most of us had a hard time leaving. We ended the tour with a trip through the JPL white room and mission control where satellites are built, tested, and monitored during and throughout their launch and mission. Just an incredible place! We completed our time at JPL with a chance to work on a lesson plan to incorporate into our classroom from any of the previous days’ activities. How do you pick just one lesson to use? There are literally hundreds of things we could do based on what we’ve seen the last four days! Finished the day with pizza at a restaurant near our hotel. We’re amazed at the number of people we see out every evening, late, eating and enjoying the night life. Most of us are from small communities where the streets get rolled up by 9pm. We’ve been out every evening well after 10pm and the crowds are incredible. Tomorrow is our last day and we’re already reminiscing about our adventures. Good night!

Day Five: UCLA and a Rushed Goodbye

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After checking out of the historic Culver Hotel in beautiful downtown Culver City we are on our way to the last stop of our trip, UCLA. We began the morning with a review of the importance of incorporating the 7 principles of ocean literacy into our curriculum. Remember to check out the ocean literacy website for some great information and teacher resources at The final, and again fascinating presentation of the week covered water quality and algal blooms in Santa Monica Bay by Anita Leinweber and Rebecca Shipe. Gwen Noda walked us through a great water density activity that really drove home the idea of temperature and salinity effects on ocean water. Then our wonderful COSEE West adventure was cut short by notification that our flight back to CO had been cancelled. So we spent the next few hours off and on trying to find a flight out of the area. In between conversations with multiple airline employees we created one-minute presentations on a website we found useful that others could refer to throughout the year as they incorporate ocean literacy into their curriculums. There were a host of valuable websites we were exposed to this week and we’re all anxious to try them out. In the meantime we were able to secure seats on a flight out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, so our afternoon with our newfound California friends was cut short. Very sad!!!! We finally experienced the infamous stop-n-go traffic of the 405, but made it to the airport and on to a very crowded flight back to Colorado. Thanks to all for a great week!!!

A Week on the Pacific Coast

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A week on the Pacific Coast

As I reflect upon our group’s experience in Los Angeles with the COSEE- West Ocean Observing Systems Workshop, a couple of highlights emerge.

First, as a land-locked Coloradoan, I am always surprised by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean no matter how many times I see it.  As a biologist, I am fascinated by the complex ecosystems under that expanse of water.  We definitely had the chance to glimpse a bit of the interesting life forms.

Here is a brief list of some of the most fascinating:

  • Kelp- lots of it!  It is always neat to see the flotation bladders up close and personal.
  • Dolphins- We went through a pod of about 100 some with babies.  The babies swim directly beside the mom, using her slipstream to draft off of.
  • Giant starfish and other great marine invertebrates.- fascinating adaptations!
  • Seals and sea lions in rehabilitation at the Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
  • Brown pelicans at the Bird Rescue Center- fishing line survivors.
  • Humans- they were plentiful all over the LA area!

Second,  we had the opportunity to hear from a number of scientists about their research. ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) are becoming a sophisticated tool for understanding parts of the ocean previously unexplored.  At the Ocean Institute, we also had the chance to modify and drive our own ROVs.  It is true, we need more video gaming experience in order to be better drivers!  The presentation about the TOPP program (Tagging of Pacific Predators. also reminded me that there is so much we don’t know about how large animals travel and use the Pacific Ocean.  Finally, at the Jet Propulsion Lab/ NASA, we saw the future of Mars Exploration, Curiosity, being built.  While the current Mars rovers are the size of VW bugs, Curiosity is a beast the size of a SUV.

Finally, collaborating with teachers from other schools and Colorado and California led to many thoughtful discussions about the role of Marine Science in the classroom.  I, for one, am looking forward to incorporating more Ocean Literacy into my science classroom.   I am also thrilled to introduce my students to many more scientific opportunities and careers as a result of this week.

Remote Operated Vehicle

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Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) are unoccupied underwater robots, connected to an operator via a series of cables. The connecting cables transmit command and control signals to and from the underwater vehicle and the operator, allowing remote navigation of the vehicle.
A typical hydrographic ROV configuration includes a video camera, lights, sonar systems, and an articulating arm.  The articulating arm can be used for retrieving small objects, cutting lines, or attaching lifting hooks to larger objects.  The ROV system includes the vehicle, deck unit, tether management system, hand box controller, laptop computer, and video display. (NOAA 2010)

Side Scan Sonar

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Side scan sonar is a specialized sonar system for searching and detecting objects on the seafloor. Like other sonars, a side scan transmits sound energy and analyzes the return signal (echo) that has bounced off the seafloor or other objects. (NOAA 2010)