Why Marine Science?
Why Polymer Science?

The need for enhanced ocean education is clearly recognized by members of the oceanographic community, from scientists to classroom and informal education experts. A 1996 NSF-sponsored CORE workshop on ocean sciences and K-12 education found that

    "The workshop participants strongly supported the theme that the ocean agencies present outstanding opportunities and untapped resources for K-12 education, and that oceanographic processes and features are ideally suited for constructing and demonstrating knowledge and science-based skills in the fundamental principles of science across the disciplines, including the social sciences, and over a wide range of levels of sophistication. The challenge is for the ocean sciences research community and K-12 educators to reach out and develop partnerships (both formal and informal) to, over the long term, mutually develop new ways to infuse the ocean sciences into K-12 education at all levels and throughout the curriculum."

In the 1998 Year of the Ocean Discussion Papers, an overview of the status of marine education stated that "nationally, preservice teaching and teacher credential programs rarely provide any special instruction in oceanography. Teaching methods courses frequently provide information about water, but rarely about the ocean specifically." Ocean and coastal studies offer abundant opportunities for relevant, exciting, and integrative science education.

In response to meeting the National Science Education Standards, ocean and coastal science education are also largely untapped resources. Admiral (ret.) James Watkins, President of the Consortium for Ocean Research and Education (CORE) recognized that even though ocean sciences comprise "one perfect implementation mechanism to meet national standards," explicit references to the oceans were missing from the National Science Education Standards (NOAA, 1998).

Science and technology educators stress that today science and technology are inherently and closely related, with a classroom goal being a "seamless" integration of technology into the teaching and learning of science (Koch 1999). Linda Roberts, technology advisor to Education Secretary Riley, stated "It is impossible to imagine how school leaders who are focused on more authentic ways of doing mathematics and science, who are developing rich environments for learning, can achieve that without technology" (Education Week, 1997). Polymer science is, in fact, a key mechanism in addressing incorporation of technology.

Polymer science and engineering encompass basic and exploratory research with targeted applications. Both undergraduate and graduate students with degrees in this area are in "high demand" and are very productive in industrial positions even during the first year of their professional development. This is a direct result of the integration of technology into the polymer science curricula. Technology involves the use of science and scientific discoveries to solve real-world problems. Curricula like that those offered at The University of Southern Mississippi incorporate application oriented topics throughout the program and in all courses taught. In fact, this program illustrates the interdisciplinary nature of polymer science in both its faculty and courses offered. Faculty includes graduates of traditional chemistry, chemical engineering and physics programs. Courses include traditional chemistry and chemical engineering topics (about 2/3 and 1/3 of each); however, these courses are taught with polymer threads throughout and with examples and problems based on real-world situations. Thus, polymers are inherently technologically-oriented.

Inclusion of polymer modules and topics at the K-12 level is important for many reasons. One of the major themes of the center is the dynamics of synergism and conflict that exist between the natural and synthetic. This involves several aspects which will be addressed throughout the individual emphasis areas in the two main thrust areas, and which will serve as the uniting concept for all content material of the center. Key issues to be addressed include:
  • Polymers from the sea Many natural polymers are harvested from the ocean and used in food, pharmaceuticals and biomaterials. This segment will discuss how they are unique and what the relationship is between the chemical and physical properties of these marine polymers and their important applications.
  • Polymer impact on marine environments Many synthetic polymers, such as plastic waste and discarded fishing gear, contaminate the rivers and oceans of the world. The environmental impact of these pollutants will be combined with ways to eliminate harmful effects through development of degradable synthetic and natural materials.
  • Pollution from the production of polymers and polymeric materials is a long-standing problem in many countries throughout the world. How these by-products and waste streams enter and impact the aquatic and marine environments will be explored, along with expanding efforts to develop "green chemistry" alternatives to polymer production.
  • Lessons that we can learn from marine organisms For example, barnacle cement is one of the strongest adhesives known, and several companies are currently developing synthetic analogs and methods for bio-production of the main peptide segment for commercial use. Another example involves abalone shells, which are made essentially of calcium carbonate, a brittle mineral, but which is constructed in such a way that the final composite exhibit excellent strength and impact resistance. How nature generates the brick-like structure that imparts these unique properties by use of a natural polymer nucleating agent and "mortar" has enormous potential impact on synthetic polymers. These are only a few of the valuable lessons we can learn from the sea. This proposed center will help impart an awareness and understanding of the methods for learning about marine polymers.

Teachers educated in interdisciplinary areas such as polymer and marine sciences, have an inherent advantage in both understanding how the disciplines work together to solve real-world problems, and in providing examples for student learning that involve hands-on familiarity and experience. Most important is the fact that these two subjects are fun to learn because they provide an "umbrella" concept that helps both teachers and students organize and see relationships among traditionally discipline-specific facts and concepts. For example, while both chemistry and chemical engineering deal with the same chemicals, they are taught totally independently of each other. Similarly, both biomaterial medical researchers and industrial scientists attempting to generate better materials share the same fundamental chemical and physical properties of the polymers with which they work, but without benefit of cross disciplinary synergism. The approach of this proposal involves teaching across the science disciplines so that students see the interactions and interrelationships inherently and are continuously exposed to the interconnectedness of all aspects of science disciplines with the real world around them.

Teachers need quality inservice opportunities to learn and practice SMT teachers integrated content and teaching strategies. Federal programs providing such support have long acknowledged the benefits of funding inservice programs. A 1978 National Science Foundation (NSF) report concluded:

    "What science education will be for any one child for any one year, is most dependent on what that child's teacher believes, knows, and does or doesn't believe, doesn't know, or doesn't do. For essentially all of the science learned in the school, the teacher is the enabler, the inspiration, and the constraint."

The writers of the National Science Education Standards for Professional Development (1996) concluded that effective inservice education must include: the learning of science content through inquiry; the integration of science, learning pedagogy (teaching strategies), and students in teaching; and the building of science understanding and abilities for lifelong learning which are coherent and integrated. Teachers, given the needed support and afforded such coordinated inservice education, will be more successful in their own classrooms and as mentors to and leaders of their peers-in their schools, in their districts, and in their states and broader regions.

To meet these critical needs, this effort will provide a sequential set of professional development opportunities to enhance the content and pedagogical competence of SMT teachers-through the study of polymer and marine sciences. In addition, the inclusion of research faculty, specialists, and informal educators as participants within these three annual, 18-day polymer and marine science Institutes will strengthen the depth and breadth of learning within the proposed Center for Teaching and Learning.