Bellies and brains were filled during the final event of the 2021 – 2022 Educator Science Café series, which took place in March aboard the USS Yorktown. Fifteen educators from across the state attended the “All Hands on Deck” event and were joined by science educators from Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum (Patriots Point), the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium (Consortium), and Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission for a “brunch and learn” designed to highlight classroom applications for incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), social studies, and ELA (English language arts) to address the new South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Science Standards 2021. While enjoying a catered lunch, participants rotated between two sessions aboard the ship: one demonstrating interdisciplinary classroom approaches using social studies, engineering design, and ELA, and a second session instructing on nature journaling as a tool for addressing the scientific process (e.g., making observations), exploring ecosystems, and developing skills in technical and creative writing.
Educator practices nature journaling techniques during the “All Hands on Deck” Educator Science Café. (Photo: E.V. Bell)
Officially launched in 2014, the Educator Science Café series was co-created by the Consortium and Patriots Point in partnership with a former researcher at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources as a way to connect scientists and educators in a relaxed and informal setting. One of the first cafés, “The Science of Swim,” investigated the physical and behavioral adaptations that aquatic animals, such as dolphins, possess to allow them to function. What started off as a one-time event quickly gained in popularity, and after seven consecutive seasons, the Educator Science Café series has hosted more than 20 events for approximately 250 formal and nonformal educators and 50 science experts.
Prior to the pandemic, each Educator Science Café series consisted of three, in-person events hosted monthly between December and February, with topics reflecting suggestions from previous café evaluations and local research priorities. Deviating from the standard lecture-style learning, the cafés were designed to be an intimate affair: a maximum of 15 educators and three science experts convened at a local restaurant or coffee shop for a two-hour facilitated conversation over appetizers and dinner. Each invited scientist engaged in a version of “science speed dating,” rotating among small groups of five educators for a 20-minute conversation about their area of expertise. To ensure a relaxed, informal learning atmosphere, invited scientists were encouraged to swap out their computer presentations for more engaging props: photos, handouts, and tangible examples during their discussions. “The goal is to facilitate dialogue between subject matter experts and educators. Conversation and comfortable communication around the ‘kitchen table’ is what we truly try to recreate – that moment where both parties learn through back and forth. This isn’t your typical PowerPoint presentation sort of event – and we like that way!” said Hannah Giddens, Science Programs coordinator for Patriots Point.
Pivoting in 2020, the café series adopted a virtual platform to avoid in-person gatherings during the pandemic. While perhaps not quite as cozy as a restaurant, the benefits from the virtual format allowed for a wider demographic of attendees who could tune in from the comfort of their own home. In fact, a record 136 educators registered for the café series in 2020 – 2021 from counties such as Horry, Richland, and Spartanburg. To simulate the café atmosphere, each topic of focus came with a corresponding, optional recipe that participants could make and enjoy during the session. One such café, “Reading, ‘Riting, Reactions, and Recipes,” featured a local meteorologist and the popular children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, to educate about weather and hurricanes. The featured recipe for the evening? Good ol’ spaghetti and meatballs.