SciREN Coast Connects Local Teachers And Researchers

Feb 13, 2017

Kellen Lauer and Caitlin White, IMS graduate students, developed a lesson plan about the physical environment in which phytoplankton live, and the structure and function of some of their adaptations that allow them to remain neutrally buoyant in the water column. Location: NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores.
Credit E. Woodward/ UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

Next week, there’s a networking event happening at the coast bringing together marine and environmental scientists and teachers.  In its fifth year, SCiREN - an acronym for Scientific Research and Education Network- is aimed at building a relationship between coastal scientists and local teachers.  Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers who attend the workshop can receive free lesson plans based on North Carolina standards – and focused on local research happening at our coast.

“They’ve got some great information, and they have really good data and that’s what our kids need.  They need real science in the classroom.”

Miriam Sutton is a science teacher at Morehead City Middle School.  She was in attendance at last year’s SciREN event which drew over 120 educators from across the state and 40 researchers from Duke University, East Carolina University, the Institute of Marine Sciences and NC State.  This year’s event should be even bigger.  So far, more than 45 scientists will attend and 100 teachers are signed up for the workshop.  Ph. D student Martin Benavides (Mar-TEEN BEN-uh-VEE-TEZ) is helping to organize the event.  He says grade appropriate lesson plans will be available on topics like water quality, local storm water research and invasive species along our coast.

“Another thing we emphasis to these researchers is in addition to coming up with the activity that should be hands on and engaging, they need to be able to justify the why.  Why should they be teaching this lesson to their students.  That’s an important thing that teachers need to get across to their students in order to get them engaged.”

Benavides was a high school teacher for four years in New York City before moving to eastern North Carolina.  He says it was a challenge to connect students with ongoing research and breaking discoveries being made.  He hopes the SciREN event will help facilitate a transfer of information from the laboratory to the classroom.

“In addition, there’s a hope that as these educators and researchers start to network that they’ll develop to relationships that can then translate to in-classroom experiences where scientist come into the classrooms and teach the students themselves.”

Benavides was a guest in Sutton’s classroom where he talked about his research using drones to track sharks off our coast. 

“And the kids just totally lit up.  I mean I can say it all day long, and I can show them pictures of what these guys are doing in the field. But it’s not the same as when they’re actually there talking to them about what they’re doing and how it’s done.”

Sutton has had researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Duke Marine Lab, and the Institute of Marine Sciences teach lesson plans to her class. 

The goal of the SciREN workshop is to encourage teachers to learn more about local marine and environmental research and make connections with scientists that could translate into educational opportunities for their students.  The event takes place next Thursday, February 16th at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores from 5:30 to 8 pm.  Lesson plans and other resources are free for teachers. For more information, go to