DigIn Educator Workshop: 

Scientific Discovery & Natural History Collections

July 10-14, 2023

Building off of previous successes and lessons learned with hosting educator workshops in 2021 and 2022, NHMLA hosted the third iteration of our DigIn educator workshop series from July 10-14, 2023. DigIn researchers and educators local to them traveled to Los Angeles to spend a week learning about natural history collections, the process of digitization and the resulting data, marine invertebrates and timely research happening in the marine science field, and opportunities for engaging students in authentic scientific research. Including the NHMLA hosts, twenty people took part in the workshop. Participants came with wide-ranging experience and interests, and we designed the workshop program to be fulfilling to everyone from individuals new to collections and marine invertebrates, to those deeply involved in these fields.

DigIn researchers included those from the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Field Museum, Harbor Branch Research Institute, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. As part of the application process earlier this spring, researchers identified educators that they either have an existing relationship with or people with whom they were able to establish a new connection. Several of the participating educators were high school teachers in public schools, and other participants included museum educators, a leader at the Alabama Science in Motion program (which is associated with DigIn partner institution Auburn University), and an elementary school teacher.

This workshop had two primary goals. The first was to create a community of researchers and educators interested in marine science, natural history collections, and educational resources on these topics. In this way, educators would have researchers to turn to when they are teaching about marine science and can take advantage of their expertise, access to collections, knowledge of resources such as data sources and publications, and even for direct engagement with students. Likewise, the researchers would gain new outlets of outreach for their work, deeper connections to the public, and the ability to inspire the next generation of scientists. This community would span from the local researcher and educator partnerships to the nationwide DigIn TCN community as enabled by virtual connections.

The second goal was for each partner group to create a lesson or unit that the educator would use this academic year. This educational resource would include one or more of the elements introduced during the workshop, e.g., marine invertebrates, natural history collections, digitization and digital data. The resource would be written in a way that suited the educator and aligned with the goals, educational standards, and timeframe within which they work. All of these lessons and units, along with associated resources that were discussed during the workshop, were made available to all participants in a Google folder for them to use in the future, thereby creating a library of information the educators can turn to as they develop their curriculum. 

The majority of the workshop took place at NHMLA and began with an introduction to natural history collections and the DigIn project, followed by a tour of some of the marine invertebrate collections and digitization setup. 

Over the course of the week, participants also learned about additional ways that occurrence records are created, such as observations made via the community science platform iNaturalist, and ways to access a variety of biodiversity data including via iDigBio and GBIF. We worked with Rikki Marzan, a Los Angeles Teacher of the Year, who presented marine science lessons that she’s done in her classroom. She also provided access to her extensive library of educational resources on marine science topics, as well as general lesson planning tools. We connected with an educator who works for the Ocean Exploration Project (Nautilus Live) who discussed ways for teachers to be involved with their expeditions. 

Roger Birkhead from Alabama Science in Motion and Susan Sennett from Fort Pierce Westwood Academy using iNaturalist to record observations in NHMLA's Nature Gardens.

Libby Ellwood from NHMLA leading a discussion on museum specimens in a global data context.

Outside of NHMLA we spent time on the coast where we visited AltaSea, a kelp aquaculture facility; we scraped dock pilings and identified the animals we found; went tidepooling; and spent time at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. We also toured the kelp forest and other exhibitions at the California Science Center. 

Workshop participants scraping a dock in the Port of LA to look for specimens.

Participants searching for marine invertebrates in the dock scrapings.

Rosana Cunha from the Field Museum of Natural History holding a lobster molt. 

Participants viewing the Kelp Forest Exhibit at the California Science Center.

These activities, along with many impromptu discussions, casual conversations over meals and coffee, and Q&A opportunities with the full group, provided the fodder for participants to construct their lessons. Each afternoon they were given dedicated time to transform their ideas into lessons and prepare for presenting them on the last day. During the presentations, each teacher walked us through the lessons they had developed and then received feedback and questions from the group. Participants successfully integrated the week’s activities into impressive educational material that could be used in a wide variety of formal and informal teaching environments. Several reflected on their enjoyment of the process and excitement to teach their lessons and work with the resources they were introduced to during the workshop. 

The collaboration between researchers and educators enabled by this workshop provided the opportunity for all involved to work within their skill set while benefiting from the diversity of experiences present. That is, everyone brought something unique to the workshop, and as a result, we all benefited. In this way, we as DigIn researchers could more successfully reach students around the country and, in turn, the educators were able to expand their educational toolboxes of resources and contacts. We look forward to offering another workshop next year to researchers and educators associated with DigIn institutions that weren’t able to attend this year.