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Educator Science Café Series Wraps Up Season with Event on Microplastics

Mar 12, 2020 | News

​The Educator Science Café Series wrapped up its 2019-2020 season with “Microplastics: It’s a Small World” in February at Smoky Oak Restaurant on James Island, S.C. During this event, John Weinstein, chair of the Department of Biology at The Citadel, and Barbara Beckingham, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at the College of Charleston, shared their research regarding the sources and impacts of microplastics in our environment with formal and nonformal educators.

A group of educators at a restaurant table having a discussion.

Barbara Beckingham of the College of Charleston talks with participants in the February Educator Science Café Series, which focused on microplastics in coastal waterways. Photo by E.V. Bell, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

The Educator Science Café format deviates from standard lecture-style learning and embraces small-group, dinner table-like discussions between invited scientists and formal and nonformal educators. “The aim is to create a different learning atmosphere – something that didn’t add more ‘work’ during the week for either the educator or scientist, yet still provided a quality education,” said E.V. Bell, marine education specialist with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “We want folks to show up, relax, eat a good meal, network with each other, and have an engaging conversation – much like they would do with friends.”

Officially launched in 2014, the Educator Science Café Series was an idea conceived by educators from the Consortium and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum along with a former researcher at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). The first café, “Horsin’ Around on the Yorktown,” invited experts conducting horseshoe crab research from Charles River Labs and the SCDNR to share information related to this prehistoric, living fossil commonly gracing the shores of South Carolina beaches. Since 2014, five Educator Café Series have been hosted around the Charleston area for more than 150 educators and 25 scientists.

The Educator Science Café hosts three events per year, occurring monthly from December through February. Topics and themes change yearly based on previous café evaluation data and research priorities within the community. All cafés follow a singular format: A maximum of 15 educators and three scientists are invited to meet at a local venue (e.g., restaurant) for a two-hour conversation over appetizers and dinner. Each scientist sits with a group of four to five educators for approximately 20 minutes, during which time the group has a chance to eat, learn, ask questions, and share about the particular topic. After 20 minutes, the scientists rotate to the remaining groups of educators for additional 20-minute sessions. In a sense, this is scientific speed dating – imparting just enough interesting and applicable information that the educators are left wanting to learn more.

For the invited scientists and experts, few rules apply for what and how they would like to share their information. One rule stands firm – no presentations on computers. Photos, handouts, specimens – or nothing at all – are encouraged to enhance talking points. Conversations grow organically, with each 20-minute session being different that the one preceding it.

The goal of the Educator Science Cafés is to facilitate a two-way flow of information between educators and scientists, with each gaining new knowledge and perspectives.

“One benefit for scientists is having a casual venue from which to communicate scientific information,” says Hannah Giddens, science education coordinator for Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. “For the educators, they get to communicate with a scientist one-on-one. Often a large disconnect exists between the education and the scientific communities. Our cafés enable educators to get info directly, and scientists can see how the information fits into learning landscapes.”

The dates and topics for the 2020-2021 Educator Science Café series will be announced in fall 2020 on the Consortium website’s education program page under “Professional Development Opportunities”. For more information, contact E.V. Bell at elizabeth.bell@scseagrant.org.