PUBLISHED: 5:01 PM on Wednesday, May 4, 2005
Sea Week

When scientists at the NOOA Auke Bay Lab decided to show their work to their children 35 years ago, little did they know they would be the seed that blossomed into what is now a statewide curriculum.

"Alaska Sea Week," a marine science education program, developed by the Juneau School District in the mid 1970s, gives children across the state a more intimate knowledge of the ocean that surrounds us, its ecology, rich diversity of species, and what the scientists do that study it for a living.

Over two weeks, usually in late April-early May, the Auke Bay Lab opens its doors for scheduled visits from Kindergarten and Sixth Grade classes from Juneau and surrounding communities. This year, nearly 1,000 students will be visiting the lab. For the Kindergartners, the visit includes identifying animals in the upstairs aquariums, and getting some hands-on contact with some of the underwater life by visiting touch-tanks downstairs.

Bonita Nelson, outreach educator for the Auke Bay Lab, said the sixth-grade visitors also get a hands-on look at what scientists do - this year, a first-hand look at oilspills.

"If they learn something, that's great. But above all, what I want them to come away from here with is the sense that science is fun."

Many students, Nelson has found, suffer from misconceptions about what science is and what scientists are. She likes to tell them that she herself didn't just sail through school; that high school was really hard for her; that college got easier; and that you don't have to wear a white lab coat and be exceptionally smart to be a scientist.

"We also want to make teachers and students aware that we are here, as a resource to the public," Nelson said. "When they're in eighth grade and doing a report, we want the kids to know they are always welcome to call us."

In addition to what the students take away from the visit, Nelson is hoping some of her ideas for how to make science fun can inspire visiting teachers.

"I try to do one new thing every year -Eand I always work only with things I can buy from local businesses. It's nothing fancy, most of it is a glue-gun and poster board kind of operation," she said, emphasizing that things don't have to be fancy or professionally done to be inspiring and give the kids something to learn from.