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At first glance, there's very little about the underwater environment of Baja Mexico that resembles that of Appledore Island off the coast of Maine and N.H. The color of the water, for starters, is a tropical aquamarine hue that you might see in a travel magazine -- you know, the kind of glossy publication you half-heartedly flip through in the dead of winter at your doctor's office as you're waiting to be seen for a flu shot. If you've been to the New England coast in winter, it's a gorgeous place but it's just about the farthest thing from tropical as you can get.
But according to Mark Wiley, the Assistant Director for Marine Education at New Hampshire Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension, the techniques used to teach students about island and marine environments don't necessarily depend on the actual island location. Wiley's recent week-long marine science teaching fellowship in Baja Mexico reinforced this notion. And the experience taught him a little bit more about other ways of teaching both in the classroom and out that he can apply to his work with the N.H. science teacher training week he hosts on Appledore Island each summer.
"The fellowship offered a great deal of similarities to my work back here in New Hampshire – we incorporate as much field work as possible into lesson plans, it's very similar to what I do out at Appledore for teacher’s week," Wiley said.
Wiley received a fellowship to attend the one-week Island Ecology course run by Ecology Project International (EPI) in La Paz, Mexico. Leaving the cold, snowy north for warmer climes, Wiley and nine other teachers from throughout the U.S. spent the week working through field-based science curricula (including snorkeling and recording marine species abundance and diversity).
EPI takes high school students out to field locations for place-based science education, Wiley said. They conduct research projects to learn the scientific method. They do some studying and preparation beforehand, then collect the data at the site. But EPI wanted a way to evaluate and improve their programming for these students, and that's where Wiley and the other teachers came in.
"The teacher fellowship was an opportunity for high school teachers and educators to experience the same format at those sites and share reflections on how the experience and content is pertinent," Wiley explained. EPI can use that information to improve their methods to better engage with the students and ensure a positive learning experience. In return, the teachers could learn from one another how different educational approaches might be applied to their own work back home.
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