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From a Scientist and Educator

By Nancy Monson

I will first say that I am continuously impressed with the passion, conviction, and energy of the young people in this important organization. When Everblue founder Ellie Jones (one of the most stellar and enthusiastic former students in my AP Biology course!) invited me to be on the advisory board, I was thrilled (and more than a little proud of this awesome young scientist). She is the ultimate “ambassador” for science and the ocean! In thinking about topics for this month’s blog post, I was struck by a topic presented in previous Everblue posts re: starting conversations about conservation (in other words, being ambassadors for science and for the ocean). As a scientist and science educator, I thought this might be a good topic to tackle.

I became a high school science teacher 26 years ago (teaching primarily Biology and Chemistry). While my early preparation and studies in biology were focused on molecular and cellular mechanisms, it is my experience in the teaching of biology… ALL of biology… that has deepened my understanding and appreciation of the interconnectedness of all life, and specifically the impacts of our own species’ actions on life and on this planet.

In addition to teaching the content of Biology (& frequently Chemistry) to my students, I hope that I can also impart a sense of excitement, wonder, and curiosity about the natural world. One way I attempt this is by sharing with my classes my “Top 10” favorite terms / concepts / phenomena in Biology. I reveal these throughout the school year and encourage students to come up with their own “favorites.” I also strive to instill in them that science is a process, and hope that I help prepare them to think like scientists and to understand that process. At the end of AP Biology, I like to share my “Top 10” pieces of advice for what lies ahead, be it further studies at university, travel, or career exploration. My number one recommendation, or rather, plea to them, is that they become ambassadors of science. The main goal of Everblue is stated as: Empowering ocean-minded lifestyles and increasing scientific literacy. As my students leave high school and enter the “real” world, I hope they can serve as ambassadors of science and biology to others.

As I mentioned above, I was inspired by several of Everblue’s past research summary and tip posts on having discussions around environmental topics with others. As stated in these posts, beginning conversations about conservation and climate change can be difficult. The research summary posted on June 19, 2019 (by Rachel Aitchison) asserts that some of the reasons why people hesitate to start a conversation about climate change are:  1) they don't think they know enough, 2) they don't want to talk about things that are scary, 3) they don't think that they can make a difference, and 4) they don't want to create an awkward situation. Despite these roadblocks to having meaningful conversations about climate change, it is certainly necessary that we do so. So often, the news about the ocean and the environment is all doom and gloom. It is important to help increase interest, curiosity, and understanding about the scientific process, as well as scientific findings, among our peers. It is my experience that when people don’t understand something, they often fear or distrust it. By increasing scientific literacy, we empower others to better understand, and therefore trust, scientific findings, and then eventually feel empowered to take action in their own lives.

As a scientist and science educator, I have the daunting challenge of presenting content that may be seen as political. I am aware of my position as a teacher, and that I need to remain unbiased and “apolitical”, so as not to alienate any of my students, regardless of their situation or experience. While science is, in theory, not political, it is important to realize that science and politics are inextricably linked. As stated by Elizabeth Lopatto in her article, “Yes, Science is Political” (published by The Verge in April 2017),

“Science is a way of seeing that provides us with facts. What we do with those facts is deeply political. Determining whether pollution harms people is a matter of scientific inquiry, but deciding what to do in response to that data is politics. Who uses the water and land, and how? Those aren’t scientific questions — they’re political ones. Do we value the safety of our citizens or the profits of our corporations? What’s the balance between the two? Those are also political questions.”

As I reflect on my teaching, as I do each year, and think about my goals for this school year, I am determined to continue in my efforts to produce scientifically literate graduates who are passionate about solving our ocean’s and world’s problems and who are able to spread this knowledge and passion to others. With each individual life that is impacted by these efforts, we come closer to a critical concentration of knowledge and action that will eventually make a huge difference and turn the tide of human progress and its effect on the planet. For my own individual goals, I aim to be a science educator and ambassador for science outside of the classroom as well as inside. I am inspired constantly by my former students (like Ellie!) and the work they are doing to “empower ocean-minded lifestyles.”

As we all continue to make changes in our own lives, I hope we can all commit to being ambassadors for science, the ocean, and the planet. By sharing our passion and increasing scientific literacy among our fellow citizens, we CAN make a difference. I’ll close with three of my favorite quotes that I plan on posting around my classroom so that I see them every single day (and so do my students)!

  • The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion. – Paulo Coelho

  • We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. – Howard Zinn

  • Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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