Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences
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Program Description
Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences (COSIA) involves scientists at colleges and universities working with local aquariums and marine science centers to deploy undergraduates and graduate students to teach the public about current discoveries in ocean sciences. Several COSEE Centers have offered this course, developed by COSEE California at the University of California, Los Angeles.

COSEE California
Development and field-testing of this course was a major initiative of the Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences project that was funded by NSF Informal Science Education (Grant ESI-0540417; 2006-2009). The project involved five pairs of informal science education institutions and nearby colleges or universities to create strategic, long-term three-way partnerships to improve ocean science education nationwide.

Undergraduate and graduate students in the program explored and applied current research on learning and instructional strategies geared toward informal learning environments, and engaged them in communicating ocean sciences. Each student, working with university professors and educators at the informal science education institutions, also had the opportunity to design an activity for implementation at the aquarium or science center.

Project goals included:

  • To provide a model for establishing substantive, long-term partnerships between scientists and informal science education institutions to meet their respective educational outreach needs.
  • To provide future scientists (college students) with experiences delivering outreach that acquaint them with the role informal institutions play in providing memorable experiences for the public and promoting the broader impact of research.
  • To provide diverse role models and inquiry-based ocean sciences for children and families visiting informal science institutions.
  • To create a series of handbooks including: an Instructors' Guide for the COSIA course, and an Informal Science Educators' Handbook.
  • To create a project web site to disseminate resources, results, and a bank of informal marine education activities.

Learn more here.

COSEE-West UCLA Course
In spring, 2012, Dr. Rachel Kennison, Co-Director of COSEE-West, offered the Berkeey-Lawrence Hall of Science COSIA course developed by COSEE California at the University of California, Los Angeles. The class was full with 26 undergraduate science majors and 4 graduate students from a variety of science disciplines and was instructed in partnership with colleagues at Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (SMPA).

The course combined classroom instruction in teaching and learning theory modeled with inquiry-based teaching methods, along with six weeks of supervised practical teaching experience at SMPA. Students communicated scientific knowledge and received mentoring on how to improve their presentations, and by the end of the course, they knew how to engage the learners, find out what they already knew or thought they knew, and share their science concepts in a relevant way. The long-view goal was to develop ocean science literacy at all levels and to encourage broad public understanding of science and environmental stewardship.

A large element of the course work was to engage students in thinking critically and self reflectively about their practice, which was a new and welcomed challenge for most of them. They were asked to write about and present their thinking process and constructively evaluate their own work as well as the work of their peers. By participating in hands on activities and reflecting on their experience, they learned by doing, creating a deeper understanding of the process of learning, which enabled them to be better designers of activities as well as better teachers.

For their final presentations, COSIA students designed a colorful and compelling set of learning activities: a deep sea predator-prey game; a working model of a kelp forest; a model sea star with tube feet that stick to the sides of an aquarium; and a mock intertidal zone where learners could use props to try out different survival strategies. One of the most telling outcomes was that six students continued as volunteers at SMPA over the summer and two are still volunteering this fall.

CW USC student presenting COSIA project at the Aquarium of the Pacific 
USC student presenting COSIA
project at the Aquarium of the Pacific
COSEE-West USC Course
The University of Southern California (USC) and the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) have teamed and worked together since 2009 to create and execute a semester long COSIA course at USC. They have also developed shorter programs such as a two day module for the NOAA/SEA Grant Knauss Fellows at their February 2011 orientation in Washington, DC as well as additional short programs associated with the COS/COSIA objectives as part of the Communicating Ocean Sciences Informal Education Network (COSIEN) and the Communicating Ocean Sciences Reflecting on Practice Network (

The project has created new COSIA materials which we have used in these a variety of different programs as well as in the COSIA course. These modules include but are not limited to: a) links between educational theory and brain theory, b) how to use concept mapping to discover and organize both research and teaching ideas, c) the difference between making and playing games in teaching and learning, d) story telling as a method to teach new concepts and attending to a person’s personal analogizing and use of metaphor to help understand how to best explain new concepts, e) body language and articulation of thoughts, f) framing your science, g) understanding the roots of creativity.

We have also engaged the staff from the California Science Center (CSC) to join USC and AOP in creating and implementing a COSIA course for USC graduate students (BISC 587) taught in the fall 2013 term. In addition to the Science center educators, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies educators joined in formation of this expanded curriculum. Primary instructors were: Dr. Myrna Jacobson Meyers, USC Biology/Wrigley (, Dr. Cornelius Sullivan, USC (, David Bader, AOP ( and Emily Yam, AOP ( CSC staff members Gretchen Bazela, Nor Oropez, and Chuck Kopczak participated in the course. Other invited guest speakers included: Holly Willis (USC Intermedia Department - unique educational tools), James Fawcett (USC Sea Grant - transferring research to policy), Michelle Riconscente (USC - games, testing, and evaluation), Larry Prior (Annenberg School - journalism), Greg Marshall (National Geographic Society - creativity).

 CW USC student presenting COSIA project to fellow students
USC student presenting COSIA
project to fellow students
In 2013, six programs associated with the COS/COSIA objectives as part of the Communicating Ocean Sciences Informal Education Network (COSIEN) were offered at various venues. The six COSEIN/COS programs run to date include:
  1. A Webinar for CDEBI: How to Give an Elevator Talk, March 2013
  2. COSEIN Training for Wonder Kid Mentors, February/March 2013 (a two day training)
  3. COSEIN Training for Smash Mentors, May 2013 (three-hour training at UCLA)
  4. Facilitating the NAI Science Outreach ROP Funding for Student Field Trips, June 2013
  5. COSIEN Reflection on COSIA Practices Meeting (Where Do We Go Next), July 2013
  6. A meeting reflecting on curriculum and creating new programs, August 2013
Quotes From Course Participants
"This class has given me the tools I need to be an effective science communicator which is essential as a science major and which I felt I needed to improve upon. This class definitely is one of my top three favorite classes that I have taken in my four years here at UCLA."

"This class was the first class I've taken that was more focused on the purpose of the concepts, and furthermore what we could do with them, than a grade or requirement."

"A major theme in the class was "metacognition". This stimulates a level of thinking that is far beyond even some of the most complex classes I've taken at UCLA."

"Science students are often are lacking in the ability to communicate their work and science in general. This does not result from a deficiency--rather we are never taught how to do it! This class fills that gap."

Web article on the USC COSIA course
Come Explore Science With Us! (poster) (PDF, 968 KB)

COSEE Centers
The goal of COSEE California is to connect ocean scientists and educators to promote ocean literacy nationwide. COSEE California develops tools, programs, and courses that are in widespread use throughout the National COSEE Network.

COSEE-West strives to improve K-12 ocean science education through activities that provide high quality science content and resources for K-12 teachers and informal educators.

Contact Information
COSEE California

COSEE-West UCLA Course
Rachel Kennison

Linda Duguay
 COSEE-West USC Course
 Linda Duguay
 College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
 University of Southern California