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Massachusetts Educators Explore the Deep Ocean in Woods Hole

On a cool Saturday in early May, WHOI’s Quissett Campus swarmed with teachers, eager to be transformed into students for the day.

More than 60 assembled in the Clark Building for the annual Massachusetts Marine Educators conference, whose theme this year was "exploring the deep ocean" and waiting to hear from two world-renowned oceanographers from WHOI.

Keynote speakers Lauren Mullineax, left, and Victoria Preston, right, pose with MME Executive Director Bob Rocha.

Dr. Lauren Mullineaux, a senior scientist in the Biology Department, shared insights from her research, immersing teachers in the world she explores at hydrothermal vent systems and describing some of the astonishing adaptations she has seen in animals living in these extreme environments. Many of the vehicles used to explore the deep ocean are developed at WHOI and then shared with oceanographers around the world. Dr. Victoria Preston is a field roboticist and a postdoctoral investigator in WHOI’s department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering. She provided teachers with an insider’s view of state-of-the-art robotic technologies used by oceanographers and the challenges engineers and scientists encounter when developing tools for use in deep, dark environments with high pressure and extreme temperatures.

Following the talks, the educators had opportunities to take workshops, go on field trips, and explore exhibits from marine environmental organizations. . WHOI Sea Grant Education Specialist Grace Simpkins, who is a key organizer of the conference, said she found the intertwining of cutting edge science and classroom teaching “electrifying.”

Grace Simpkins, left, with Cheryl Milliken, who won the 2023 MME Educator of the Year award.

“This is a fantastic full day of inspiration for teachers,” she said. “They are so interested in what the keynote speakers have to share. And then there’s the flurry of ideas shared over lunch and the chance to try new things in workshops. All of it is invigorating teachers with ideas to take back to their classroom.”

At this year’s conference, Falmouth High School teacher and WHOI Sea Grant Advisory Board member, Cheryl Milliken, received the distinguished 2023 MME Marine Educator Award. This award is given for outstanding effort and distinguished performance in the teaching of marine science. It recognizes an individual’s ability to foster interest, appreciation, and love of the marine environment in the classroom setting. The Coonamessett River Trust was given the MME Annual Award of Distinction for their river herring education efforts.

Looking ahead, MME will be hosting the National Marine Educators Conference in Boston next summer. So mark your calendars for July 27-31, 2024!