June 24, 2015

Science communication about hydrography – Captain America to the rescue!

Posted by Laura Guertin


I was offered an exciting opportunity at science outreach, and I thought I would share the “spin” I put in marketing and promoting how to get people interested in learning about how we map the ocean floor.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea alumna, I was offered the opportunity to talk about my time completing a hydrographic survey on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in their Q?rius science learning space (see video tour).  Q?rius is “a new way for teens and tweens — and their families and educators — to connect science with everyday experiences.”

Each specimen has a QR code that can be scanned for further information.

Each specimen has a QR code that can be scanned for further information.
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I was excited to be able to be an “Expert” in the Q?rius lab for two hours one afternoon, especially in such a beautiful and modern space. But then, reality hit – I was going to be at the Smithsonian, competing for visitor attention against the Hope Diamond and dinosaurs. How was I going to get people to come hear about hydrography and explore nautical charts? I knew I would need some compelling advertising and promotion. With the recent release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I had my ah-ha moment – Captain America could come to my rescue!

Here is the title and description for my time in the Q?rius lab:

The Search for Captain America Began with Surveying the Ocean!

When Captain America crashed the Hydra bomber in the Arctic, how did Howard Stark begin the search? It started on the ocean floor, with hydrographic surveying. Learn how we map our oceans and use existing charts to help with navigation.

Below are photos from the tables we had set up in the Q?rius space. I brought posters, an exercise for kids to complete that had them working with nautical charts – and, of course, my Captain America shield and bank. The Teacher at Sea staff contributed a Captain America bobble head and key chains, so we were fully branded and ready to go! After my short introduction with the Captain America story, I started talking about how we map the ocean floor with sonar, how we find obstructions and mark navigation aids, and create nautical charts. I also provided a postcard-sized handout listing the ocean literacy principles and additional links to information about World Hydrography Day and information at the NOAA website.

Setting up my activity station, prepared with my Captain America gear and hydrography pitch to get kids to come in and complete a nautical chart challenge!

Setting up my activity station, prepared with my Captain America gear and hydrography pitch to get kids to come in and complete a nautical chart challenge!
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So what did I learn from my time in Q?rius?

  • The Captain America “hook” worked! People saw the items and came over to the table to find out what our station was all about.  Boys and girls, young and old, are all fans of Captain America!
  • There is an enormous lack of knowledge about what we know about the ocean floor, and how we know what we know. And I had the sense that it wasn’t because people didn’t care, it was just that they never had the opportunity to learn about the process of studying our oceans.
  • Kids, parents, family, friends, teachers… they really wanted to learn about how we map the ocean floor, and they appreciated the activity and being able to ask questions. In fact, some kids and parents kept coming back to the table to ask follow-up questions before they left the Q?rius space.
  • You need to keep your eye on the “swag” you bring – just a few kids wanted to play with my toys, and some parents even wanted to purchase the Captain America items!

For those of you that have an opportunity to do some science outreach and to communicate with the general public, don’t shy away from the opportunities that Hollywood offers us. This summer alone, San Andreas and Jurassic World are providing material for me to get students engaged as soon as the fall semester begins.

 

(I’d like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for inviting me to the Q?rius lab and for going along with my Captain America theme. I also need to thank the hydrographic survey technicians and crew of the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson for providing me with not only the experience at sea but the materials to take home with me that I can continue to use for teaching and outreach. Photos in this post of the Q?rius lab were taken by myself, the photos of the display tables were taken by the TAS staff and used with permission.)