he NASA Aquarius Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) program focuses on bringing pioneering oceanographic research to broad audiences through effective products and processes. Aquarius is NASA’s first satellite instrument specifically built to study the salt concentration of ocean surface waters, which was launched June 10, 2011 aboard the Argentine spacecraft Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D. Understanding variations in ocean surface salinity can reveal important information about our planet. Short-term fluctuations in global salinity patterns reflect changes in the water cycle and ocean circulation, both of which are linked to climate. Every seven days, Aquarius provides a new global map of salinity, providing steady and reliable information about the vast ocean where about 86% of global evaporation and 78% of global precipitation occur.
As with any NASA mission with a successful satellite launch, Aquarius E/PO has been responsible for creating/maintaining a public website (aquarius.nasa.gov); supporting Media Relations and Public Information Office requests; writing brochures, lithographs, posters, bookmarks, scripts for scientific overview videos, and NASA publications such as “The Earth Observer”; representing the Mission at various meetings/conferences; designing a mission logo; and creating educational products such “hands on” activities and online data interactions that support Aquarius-related scientific concepts.
In addition to these standard outputs, Aquarius E/PO has incorporated a unique design principle into its activities: conducting professional development on effective pedagogical techniques for NASA scientists and engineers that that they can successfully develop and deliver cutting-edge Aquarius E/PO content. Engaging in dialogue with nonscientists, however, can present a daunting challenge for scientists. Gene Likens, a 2001 National Medal of Science recipient, concluded that when faced with the “difficult but crucial task of clearly communicating evidence-based information” scientists are frequently “hindered by poor communication—including an excessive reliance on acronyms and jargon.”
Recognizing the imperative to bridge the gap between NASA content experts and lay audiences, Aquarius E/PO has facilitated professional development of scientists and engineers in the technique of concept mapping. Concept maps are proven, powerful tools for visualizing, organizing, and linking ideas and processes. By displaying the relationships among concepts using connecting lines and descriptive phrases, complex science can be broken down into its constituent underpinnings, providing a type of “road map” for researchers to clearly organize and explain the logic of their science and engineering practices. The results of this professional development strategy have been published in “Oceanography” magazine, authored by Aquarius E/PO staff members (“Concept Mapping Workshops Helping Ocean Scientists Represent and Communicate Science,” deCharon et al., 2013).
Concept mapping has been applied to Aquarius E/PO as a means of fostering collaboration between scientists, engineers and educators. In addition, concept maps created by these collaborative teams have been used to effectively deliver complex Aquarius content in workshops, webinars and as interactive online products. The concept-mapping software used by Aquarius E/PO – educational infrastructure funded by the National Science Foundation’s Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) – has the capability of linking concepts to assets such as images, video, news items and educational resources. All interactive concept maps created under the auspices of Aquarius E/PO can be accessed for personal customization (e.g., deletion or addition of concepts/assets to meet the needs of a target audience) using free online software (cosee.umaine.edu/climb).
Also imperative to the Aquarius E/PO program success has been the creation of science data-driven tools that allow users to better grasp the implications of ocean change on the environment. Dr. Susan Lozier, has been instrumental in the field testing of Aquarius data tools in her undergraduate courses at Duke University. Over several semesters, her students have used these tools to explore spatial and temporal patterns in ocean temperature, salinity, and density. They plotted these variables as a function of depth to explain the surface values and vertical structure for each. They also examined seasonal changes with depth at various locations to understand the similarities and differences between the seasonal changes observed at each site. Student feedback has informed the development and improvement of the data tools over time. In addition, Dr. Lozier shared her methods for getting students to ask questions and answer them with real ocean data in a webinar, “Using Aquarius Data: How is Inquiry-Driven Education Brought to the Undergraduate Classroom?,” the archive of which is available on the Aquarius website.
Overall, the Aquarius E/PO program has focused on delivering authentic content to broad audiences in ever-increasingly efficient ways. By fostering collaboration between NASA scientists/engineers and expert educators, the program has ensured that its materials are both accurate and audience appropriate. In addition, by evolving from primarily face-to-face interactions to web-based presentation, Aquarius E/PO has allowed ready access to high-quality materials by those traditionally not represented in science, technology, engineering and math.
Lead Institution: University of Maine
- Space Agency of Argentina, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE)
- Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE), a nationwide network funded primarily by the National Science Foundation to promote ocean literacy through effective partnerships between research scientists and educators (http://cosee.net).
The Aquarius/SAC-D mission is partnered with the Space Agency of Argentina, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE). Thus, Aquarius E/PO was involved with international efforts to develop key messages, create products, coordinate media opportunities, and facilitate the broader impacts of its scientific goals. Coordinated thematic messaging has been integrated into Aquarius/SAC-D E/PO products including “hands on” activities, data tools, and English and Spanish language versions of various materials (e.g., educational wall poster, brochures). Both E/PO programs have also worked together to present materials at scientific conferences and in delivering Spanish-language webinars about the mission.
Another key Aquarius E/PO partner is the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE), a nationwide network funded primarily by the National Science Foundation to promote ocean literacy through effective partnerships between research scientists and educators (http://cosee.net). Using best practices employed by COSEE, Aquarius E/PO staff members have helped prepare the scientific and education communities to use Aquarius observations to better understand interactions between global ocean circulation, the water cycle and Earth’s climate. In addition, Aquarius E/PO has taken full advantage of direct access to its diverse community of over 270 partners including universities, research institutions, community colleges, school districts, informal science institutions, and local/state/federal agencies.
Effectiveness and Impact
Evaluation findings and impact statements:
Evaluation of the NASA Aquarius E/PO has three distinct components: (1) External evaluation by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) of the quality of Aquarius education modules to support science and mathematics instruction; (2) External evaluation by Repa & Associates of effectiveness and impact of participation by Aquarius scientists and engineers during in-person workshops and webinars; and (3) Internal formative evaluation of delivery mechanisms to improve the quality and geographic reach of Aquarius content.
McREL’s report includes data on perceived level of usefulness for the Aquarius professional development webinar series for educators. 89% (n=8) of respondents indicated that the Aquarius educational content overview webinars were useful. 100% of participants found that the sharing of the concept maps and the explanations by the teachers of how they used them with their students in their classrooms to be helpful. In terms of Aquarius content, 83% of respondents combined indicated that they believe using materials and information about Aquarius in their classrooms will support student achievement in science and will also increase student knowledge relative to standards-based objectives associated with the Aquarius materials.
Two Aquarius-focused workshops have been held at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (June 2011 and October 2012). These events included 93 K-12 educators and 11 scientists from JPL and the University of Southern California. Prior to and during the workshops, scientists worked collaboratively with educators to examine connections between the water cycle, ocean circulation, climate and sea surface salinity. Scientist/educator teams developed online concept maps to enable effective communication of these connections. Educators attached scientist-vetted content to their online concept maps, and conducted "hands on" activities that supported workshop themes. Pre- and post-workshop evaluation shows significant improvement in educators' comfort with teaching ocean literacy principles and their perception of the relevance of Aquarius content to their classrooms. Of educator participants who completed a post-workshop survey (n=81): 90% plan to use the concept maps created at the workshops; 92% plan to use the subject matter covered in the workshops; 95% plan to use the resources presented during the workshops; 95% agreed that they could “immediately apply what (they learned from the workshops to their) teaching about science, technology or mathematics”; and 97% agreed that the workshops “inspired me to bring NASA into my classroom.”
Evaluation data collected in conjunction with six Aquarius E/PO webinars featuring eight scientists and engineers support a high level of effectiveness among participants with diverse backgrounds, including formal and informal educators, faculty/researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, and the general public.
These webinars have engaged 249 total attendees from 8 countries (US, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, and Peru).
- Of the participants who filled out post-webinar surveys, (n= 138): 93% plan to use the subject matter covered in the webinars; 91% agreed that they could “immediately apply what (they learned from the webinars to their) teaching about science, technology or mathematics”; 91% agreed that the webinars “inspired (them) to bring NASA content” into their classrooms, workplaces, etc.
- On average, the scientists’/engineers’ concept maps were rated 6.5 on a Likert scale when 7 = very useful)
- On average, their webinar presentations were rated 6.4 on a Likert scale where 7 = very useful)
These evaluation results demonstrate the audience for Aquarius E/PO activities and products has grown over time without sacrificing the quality or usefulness of the information. In addition, online archives of Aquarius webinars, which have been viewed over 5000 times since early 2012, provide an efficient way to provide long-term access to scientist- and engineer-delivered NASA content.
Aquarius E/PO has achieved significant impacts in K-12 classrooms, from California to Maine. Following are some illustrative sample responses from “Master Teachers” in Aquarius workshops and webinars:
Elementary school teacher, River Edge NJ
I also had the privilege of attending the Aquarius Mission’s Scientists and Educator Conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Not only was I able to meet other science educators from the west coast, but also was able to work with NASA scientists who were experts in the field of climate change. The scientists were able to explain the science behind their investigation and even walk us through the building of a satellite. When returning from my conference at NASA, I shared my experience with every student in our school of 500. I introduced the students to satellites and how they help us learn more about our earth. I showed them images of the experiment prototypes of the satellite and explained to them that NASA scientists go through the same process that we do in our labs to come to scientific conclusions. I told them about the NASA scientists and how they built their careers and their interests when they were students like them. This truly inspires future scientists. The best part was watching the launch of the satellite with my students and seeing their interest in the data being gathered by the Aquarius Satellite.
If NASA’s Missions’ Education and Public Outreach program was to be cut, NASA scientists, satellites, real time data and dreams would seem out of reach for young children. Being a part of this program was truly an experience my students and I would never forget.
High school teacher, Fort Edward NY
My students have benefited tremendously from our involvement with the Aquarius project. Here's a quick summary of what the most important aspects: 1. My students were really engaged in science and current events because of my involvement. Suddenly, "real" science wasn't just taking place in outer space by "really smart people" they'd never meet, it was going on right here in Fort Edward and involved one of their very own teachers! My students have continued to take an avid interest in space science, technology, the oceans and climate because of this! 2. Exposure to and ability to access new materials. This project provided me with access to class materials (labs) and software (concept mapping) that I would not otherwise have been aware of or had access to. The labs are phenomenal (especially when my district cannot purchase lab manuals) and my students & I gained a lot of the use of concept mapping. 3. Professional development. The opportunity to speak with the scientists directly involved in the project and the other educators working together across the country provided a new depth to my understanding of content, instructional practices and strategies.'
High school teacher, Bangor ME
The Aquarius Mission, with facts and information brought to us through the Educational Public Outreach program of NASA, has been very beneficial and educational to both me as a public school teacher, and the students in my high school Earth Science classes for the past three years. The Mission and Program have (1) brought technology into our classroom, (2) brought my students closer to the work of “real” scientists, and (3) enhanced my overall oceanography curriculum by providing real-time data from which students can interpret patterns in the ocean.
Our sciences classes at Bangor High School are always striving to bring the latest technologies into the classroom, and satellites certainly meet this need. From the day it lifted off, students in my Earth Science classes have studied Aquarius to understand how it works, why it’s needed, and the data it produces. That’s the technology piece. I have participated in both seminars at JPL with the lead Aquarius scientists, and webinars where the latest data and interpretations are presented to become more aware of, and educated about, the latest satellite information and findings. This is how I can bring leading scientists closer to the students. As part of the oceanography curriculum in the Earth Science classes, we study chemical and temperature trends in the oceans, and spend a significant amount of time on ocean salinity and its impact on water density. We pay particular attention to the salinity of the water around Greenland inasmuch as that area apparently drives the deep thermo-haline circulation believed responsible for our current climate stability. Aquarius maps are used frequently because they provide the most current data available. The Aquarius Mission has provided a much needed, and well received, injection of current-issue science into my high school classroom. Several of our curriculum segments are designed to focus on data, technology, and evidence. The Aquarius Mission and EPO have provided me with the means to do this with our Oceanography segment.'