Preserving our Underwater Pastures (PUP): Researching human impact on local historic artificial reef structures

Study and Analysis of reef degradation by recreational and commercial activities in Gulf waters

With miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline, miles of sugar-white sand beaches and tons of summertime sunshine, Bay County is prime territory for visitors from across the globe. Add to that the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and the accompanying commercial and recreational fishing industry and the need for caution, conservation and concern for these resources arises. In addition to those pressures, the area is included in the coastal areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which devastated the tourism industry and the effect on benthic organisms on the Gulf floor is still not totally understood. Given that the threat to this major economic resource is real as well as the fact that so many rely on the health of the Gulf and its underwater environments, it seems prudent that providing the learners in Bay County the opportunity to explore these environments, to analyze their health, and to develop a method of informing others about them is a wise investment with great potential to mitigate further degradation.

FSU Panama City through its STEM Institute will recruit 16 students who are fifteen years old or older and who are in a public high school in Bay County or one of the surrounding counties. This project will begin after July 1, 2016 and will culminate July 1, 2018 utilizing the warmer summer months when students are not in school to do most of the data gathering. Four educators will be selected, two primary teachers and two reserve teacher that will be trained and certified to work with students with the hands-on data gathering, analysis and use of science diving equipment and the analysis and interpretation of the data collected being the professional development of these teachers. Teachers are then expected to utilize their experience to develop their own classroom MWEE during the ensuing school years with support as possible from FSU Panama City.

FSU Panama City will have teachers implement MWEE using the following professional development model proven for STEM: Teachers will be trained by experts, generally professionals currently working in various Ocean Science STEM areas. Teachers will then practice what they learned with students which become their classes during summer B-WET research implementation. Teachers then return to their own classrooms during the school year to implement their new learning and are assisted as needed by the same STEM professionals with whom they worked during the summer professional development opportunities. This gives teachers the tools to incorporate Ocean Literacy in the classroom and outside labs using MWEE in teaching the direct cause and effect to students using their local watershed and ecosystem. This will allow for teachers to feel comfortable when they implement new ocean literacy and watershed based programs since they are provided continued support by Florida State University giving them the confidence to try new things in their classrooms. It also connects them to the network of professionals with whom they have worked closely and now have a personal relationship that removes any barriers between those who teach in STEM areas and those who daily apply STEM learning in their own careers. After utilizing this STEM model over the last ten years to train over three hundred teachers and to provide summer STEM learning to over 2000 students, many of whom have now joined the ranks of those STEM practicing professionals, the model is successful.

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