Successes, Challenges & Lessons Learned: Developing a 10-week ocean science summer camp curriculum for underserved youth

Throughout my GradEngage Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to work with iNviTECH to design and launch a 10-week ocean science summer camp curriculum for K-6 students in Durham, North Carolina. This was my first time designing educational curriculum at a large scale (i.e. 10-week, and throughout this process I learned an enormous amount about best practices in curriculum design. At the beginning of this process, I was very naive about the amount of time and effort it would take to design curriculum at a large scale. However, being a Ph.D. student at Duke gave me access to experts in the Education and Curriculum Design field through local colleges and universities, such as UNC, Meredith College, and NCCU. Ultimately, I ended up learning way more than I originally thought I would from this process and had the opportunity to translate my knowledge and expertise into engaging and interactive lesson plans to teach young students about the marine environment.

Designing the ocean science curriculum also reinforced all the ocean science knowledge I have acquired over the last 6 years, as it forced me to critically think through information and break-down complex topics and processes into digestible information for a younger audience. For years, I took marine science classes and conducted research in marine systems, however, I have very rarely taken the time to really process and analyze all the information I have acquired and how those different tokens on knowledge are connected to one another. The curriculum design process challenged me to take my knowledge and expertise and convert it into an educational story about the marine environment, rather than having a bunch of lessons on a diversity of ocean science topics without a clear relation between lessons/topics. I found outlining the “ocean science story” I wanted to tell through the curriculum the most time intensive part of this process. It took roughly 5-6 weeks to complete the outline and map out the various topics I wanted to cover in the curriculum. Once the outline was completed, creating the daily lessons was much easier and took a lot less time, because I was clear on what information needed to be covered for each lesson to effectively tell the ocean science story. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed creating the daily lessons, as it allowed me to be more creative and explore new interactive ways to present information to younger students.

My work with iNviTECH gave me an invaluable opportunity to create an educational curriculum for students from underrepresented backgrounds, connect with and learn from Curriculum Design experts throughout the triangle, and the ability to meaningful impact my hometown by creating a culturally relevant STEM curriculum for youth in Durham. In the future, I aspire to learn more about the curriculum design process and apply that knowledge to various aspects of my career, from teaching undergraduates to creating lessons and outreach events for K-12 students. Additionally, I plan to continue to work at iNviTECH to design other STEM-focused curriculum for various programs, such as the Track-Out camps, STEM workshops for highschoolers, and other summer camp programs. My fellowship experience has served as an informative lesson in science communication and has equipped me with new knowledge and a variety of skills to enable me to continue such work throughout my career. I hope other scientists seek opportunities to translate their knowledge and expertise to diverse audiences, as it has not only equipped me with new knowledge and skills, but also helped enhance my own understanding of various topics/concepts. Ultimately, this experience has had an enormous impact on the way I process and present information and made me a better scientist and communicator.

The Challenges of Creating a Culturally Relevant and Age-Appropriate Ocean Science Summer Camp Curriculum

Over the last several weeks, as I have begun the process of creating the ocean science summer camp curriculum, I have learned an enormous amount about the curriculum design process. This is my first time designing such a large (i.e., 9-week) curriculum, and I quickly learned that my previous way of creating curriculum was not time efficient or organized enough to tackle this new project. Thus, I spent the first few weeks of my project contacting faculty in the education department at local colleges and universities to learn more about their curriculum design process. From these conversations, I learned a lot about how to properly design a curriculum and received numerous resources to assist me throughout this process. I recently finished outlining the goals and objectives of the curriculum and identifying the focus of each of the 9-weeks, as well as all the major concepts I want to cover during each of those weeks. I am currently working on designing the activity and lesson plans for weeks 1-3, which I hope to complete soon.

One of my big goals in designing this curriculum is to make ocean science culturally relevant for inner city students of color. Additionally, I wanted the curriculum to be interactive and engaging with a lot of hands-on activities. This proved to be more challenging than I originally thought, and to accomplish this I had to make connections between marine ecosystems and terrestrial and aquatic systems, which are environments most camp students would have access to on a daily basis. Furthermore, in designing the curriculum, I had to do so with various age groups in mind.

Since the camp is for students in grades K-6, it was important to design activities that students can do regardless of age, as the abilities of students in kindergarten are vastly different than those of students in 6th grade. Thus, our activities had to be designed in a way that camp instructors could easily simplify them for younger students and make them more challenging for older students.

This process has also challenged me creatively by making me think critically about how to present ocean concepts in a culturally relevant way. This not only includes how I present scientific concepts, but also the scientists behind the science. With geosciences being one of the least racially diverse fields, and this curriculum being designed primarily for students of color, it is imperative that students feel a sense of belonging within the field of ocean science. This means that it would be counterproductive to constantly display images of scientists that students cannot identify with. Thankfully, due to recent events within the scientific community, such as “Black in Marine Science” week, it has become easier to find images and videos of marine scientists of color. I have been able to utilize information from the Black in Marine Science website and YouTube channel in my lesson plans and activities for the ocean science curriculum.

Although the process of designing the ocean science curriculum proved to be more challenging and time-intensive than I previously thought, I have been learning an enormous amount about the curriculum design process, information that will assist me in designing curriculum for various age-groups throughout my career.

iNviTechnology – Where education, innovation, entrepreneurship, and culture merge

Anjali will be working with iNviTechnology (iNviTECH) to design a 9-week ocean science summer camp curriculum for young students in grades K-6.

iNviTechnology (iNviTECH), is a Durham-based organization focused on correcting the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM fields by creating educational entrepreneurial programs to engage young children ages 0-5 and K-12 students. The organization was born of iNvictus Forward Outreach’s mission to create systemic change in access to STEM & Entrepreneurship opportunities for children of color. iNviTECH is comprised of three distinct programs, iNviTECH Playschool (for children birth–5), iNviTECH Clubhouse (for students 6–12), and iNviTECH iLab (for middle school, high school, and college aged students). As a DukeEngage fellow, my project is focused on creating a 9-week ocean science summer camp curriculum for iNviTECH Clubhouse students.

Growing up in Durham, N.C., I knew very little about the natural environment and virtually nothing about marine science. By the time I started to become conscious of environmental issues and discovered the field of marine science, I was a junior in high school. A few months later, when I was in the process of deciding if I should attend college to study marine science, I realized I did not know any marine scientists and could not find a marine scientist that looked like me. There was no one I could turn to to get advice, ask questions, or gather more information about the field, other than Google. Furthermore, Animal Planet, National Geographic, and even Google, struggled to show me any Black marine scientists, and as a result I began to think becoming a marine scientist was unrealistic. Luckly, my supportive parents, friends and family pushed me to attend Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL to study marine science.

It was during my first year of college, when I finally got to meet another Black marine scientist. Dr. Dominique Lazarre, she was an Eckerd alum who had recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Miami and had returned to Eckerd to teach for the academic year. I latched on to Dr. Lazarre, and we began meeting almost on a weekly basis. It was the first time in my career where I could ask questions about what it was like being a Black marine scientist and gain information about the hurdles I would likely have to overcome. The relationship I developed with Dr. Lazarre served as a catalyst for my career in marine science. Dr. Lazarre helped me secure my first internship, connected me with other people of Color in the field, advised me as I navigated being the only Black student in all of my major classes, and always reassured me that I belonged, even when everything else about the field seemed to say the opposite. I have made it to this point in my career because of Black scientists and mentors, like Dr. Lazarre, and throughout my career I hope I can do the same for other students of Color.

iNviTECH’s mission is directly aligned with my personal commitment of increasing underrepresented minority (URM) participation in STEM fields. I previously worked with iNviTECH during college, as a Science Instruction for a 3-week summer camp program. It was my first time running a marine science focused program for students of Color, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences. Over the last four years, I have worked on a number of iNviTECH projects and programs, and I am extremely excited to now be developing a 9-week ocean science summer camp curriculum for iNviTECH Clubhouse.

Geosciences (e.g. marine science) are one of the least racially diverse STEM fields, with URM making up only 12.76% of graduate students in the field, according to 2018 data from NSF. The curriculum is designed to enhance awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the marine environment, by exposing K-6 students to various career paths in the aquatic sciences, pressing environmental problems, and ocean science research. In contrast with other ocean science camps and curriculum, most of which take place in coastal cities, are costly, and have low program diversity, our camp curriculum will focus on exposing a diverse population of students to the aquatic sciences. Students in the camp will come from a diversity of socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds, who may not otherwise be exposed to the aquatic sciences due to their geographic location. More specifically, we will be working with inner-city students in the Durham Public School System, with a particular focus on attracting students from schools with 75% of their student-body on a Free/Reduced Lunch program.

As a DukeEngage fellow, I hope to design an ocean science curriculum that is culturally relevant to students of Color, especially those who have limited access to the ocean. I am dedicated to ensuring that our science is 1) being shaped by individuals that reflect the diversity of our population and 2) is accessible and comprehensible to all, regardless of age, education level, geographic location, and socioeconomic status. My work with iNviTECH Clubhouse and the ocean science camp curriculum I will create are my first steps in ensuring my science is both diverse and accessible.