Teachers Invited to Pick OPIHI for Science Education

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Secondary school students have a unique opportunity to explore Hawaii’s shorelines as both an educational opportunity as well as a way to contribute to real scientific research. But these field trip opportunities begin with teachers signing up for the OPIHI program.

OPIHI stands for Our Project in Hawaii’s Intertidal, referencing the intertidal zone — sometimes called the littoral zone — which is exposed at low tide but is submerged at high tide.

“This is a citizen science project, and it has scientific and educational goals,” explained Joanna Philippoff, co-principal investigator for OPIHI, on tonight’s Bytemarks Cafe. “This is an environment that there wasn’t a lot of data on, and it’s difficult to study: it’s narrow, along the coastline, and only really exposed for a limited time period, mostly in the spring and summer, low tides, in the daytime.

“How do you collect data on this environment? You trade a cadre of students,” she said.

OPIHI is actually a continuation of a research project initiated more than a decade ago, and Philippoff was also part of that science team. And according to Anuschka Faucci, co-founder of Kahi Kai and an education specialist for the UH Department of Biology, it all started with a graduate student.

“She was in the lab where I did my PhD, and one reason she wanted to study intertidal is because she was interested in invasive species, and she was looking at the introduced barnacle, which was living in intertidal as many introduced species do,” Faucci recalled. “She realized that there was just no data out there for Hawaii, so they were looking for how they can get a lot of data from the intertidal in quick.”

And for all the time visitors and residents alike spent on Hawaii’s shores, surprisingly little was known about the abundance or diversity of life found there.

“Before this project started in 2003, most scientists didn’t think the intertidal area in Hawaii was very interesting — compared to other places, especially continental areas on the mainland, our intertidal area is not very big, our tidal range is quite small,” Philippoff said. “But after studying it, these students were able to contribute to significant scientific findings, showing that Hawaii’s intertidal is very diverse.”

In fact, Philippoff said that later analysis of the information collected by that first group of students had found that their work was comparable to that of professional scientists that conduct similar surveys.

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Now, OPIHI will allow researchers to compare the condition of Hawaii’s intertidal areas across ten years, measuring changes in species composition and assessing the impact of climate change and coastal development — including the spread of invasive species. And while the students will be performing valuable fieldwork, they’re also broadening their horizons and sharpening their skills.

“I think our program is stressing not just learning about this area, but the way in which they’re learning,” said Kanesa Duncan Seraphin, director of the UH Sea Grant Center for Marine Science Education and associate professor at the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG) at the UH Manoa College of Education. “They’re learing science through this authentic process of inquiry and learning science by doing science.”

As part of the program, researchers will share with participating teachers and students their observations and discoveries as they analyze the data collected. This way, Seraphin said, students will know that they worked on something real rather than on a hypothetical exercise.

“These students will be working on a project together in their classroom that’s also being worked on by other students on their island and other students across the state,” she said. “They will get a sense of science as a larger community and really being a part of something that’s important and valuable — bringing that human context to the scienctific process.”

OPIHI is now recruiting teachers (grades 6 through 12), as well as undergraduate interns and volunteer chaperons. Although the program gets underway in January with synchronous statewide online sessions, the deadline to apply is November 16, 2015.

Built around teaching science as inquiry, OPIHI will will provide teachers professional development training, access to an online learning community, and robust curriculum to incorporate real-world, outdoor science into their classrooms. That curriculum will be based on Exploring Our Fluid Earth, unveiled earlier this summer by CRDG.

“It is a revision of two texts, The Living Ocean and The Fluid Earth, that were producd by the CRDG originally 20 years ago and we’ve updated them and put them online as sort of an experiment in online teaching and online collaboration amongst teachers,” Seraphim explained. “The website not only has curriculum and activities for students, but also has an interactive teacher community.”

And all along the way, the curriculum is being shaped with an eye toward core education requirements.

“We began the project looking at the Ocean Literacy Principles, which are a set of concepts that educators and scientists came together and decided that every person should know and understand about the ocean by the time they graduate from 12th grade,” Seraphim said.

“These are concepts that are fundamental to knowing about the world around you and deal with the ocean,” she added. “And in addition to that, as the next generation science standards have come out, we’ve aligned our curriculum to those standards as well.”

OPIHI is funded by NOAA’s B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) program, and coordinated by the Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Marine Science Education, which partnered with CRDG, the UH Marine Option Program, and Kahi Kai.

For more information, check out the teacher recruitment flyer [PDF], or the official online application. You can also email Philippoff at philippo@hawaii.edu.

You can listen to our interview with Philippoff, Faucci and Seraphin here:

Photos courtesy OPIHI/CRDG.

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