Ocean Inquiry Project
 OIP cruise participants casting nets, to 70 meters deep, for zooplankton in Puget Sound
The Ocean Inquiry Project (OIP) started in 2000 with a mission of delivering inquiry-style marine science education using hands-on curriculum, as well as gathering research-quality data in Puget Sound for scientific partners. To date OIP has educated over 1500 students, ranging from middle school students to retirees, focusing on taking oceanographic samples and collecting data. Through day-long field experiences on a ship in Puget Sound ("cruises" in the lingo of ocean researchers), students gain a better appreciation of the scientific process and how oceanographic data is collected, as well as an increased understanding of Puget Sound and the role humans play in the ecosystem's health. OIP serves a diverse population through a variety of client institutions and programs, including most of the community colleges in the Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area.

In its role as partner to COSEE-OLC, OIP brings a connection to this broader range of formal ocean science education within the Puget Sound region. Through the combined efforts of COSEE-OLC and OIP, some members of the 17 organizations already engaged by COSEE-OLC will get ocean research field experiences to enrich their ocean literacy and understanding. The groups include beach-program volunteers, informal educators, underserved youth, and local business leaders. All of these groups are important to the long-term preservation of the oceans, and particularly Puget Sound, and are usually under-represented in traditional formal ocean science education. They are largely self-selected in affiliation with their organization, but often have no exposure to the process of science or ocean research. This project has the potential to increase understanding of many aspects of the ocean, and direct it to those who can leverage it quickly because of their role, e.g., at the aquarium or with fellow habitat-restoration volunteers.

For the benefit of OIP instructors - primarily graduate students actively engaged in cutting-edge ocean research - the groups in this program bring with them a wealth of information, expertise, and ideas that are shared over the course of the day. The young scientists have an opportunity to learn about, or gain new perspectives on, local conditions and issues that the volunteers work on. This, in turn, leads to a new level of Puget Sound literacy for the graduate students. Further, the graduate student instructors receive feedback on their teaching approaches, successes and challenges, which augments their portfolio of educational and communication skills. Thus, the two-way exchanges and interaction in the field leads to "learning transformative moments" for both groups, a crucial step toward the development and sustainability of Ocean Learning Communities.

Contributed by by Fritz Stahr
Photograph courtesy of COSEE-OLC