#BergenWaveWatching: Field work right outside our students’ homes

This is a (admittedly terribly crowded — but I only had 1 A4 page and there are so many interesting #BergenWaveWatching stories to tell!) poster that I am presenting on behalf of myself (Mirjam), Kjersti Daae and Elin Darelius at the #FieldWorkFix conference (September 8, 2020). If you would rather listen to my poster’s voiceover than read the transcript below, please feel free to do that here!

Welcome to our poster!

The most important learning outcomes that, in my opinion, need to be achieved with a #FieldWorkFix are to enhance motivation and interest in concepts that are being dealt with theoretically in class, and in the students’ subject in general. When students are isolated in their homes and don’t have an inspiring community of learners in their field around them, it is so important to maintain a connection to their field of study! And one way to do that is by helping them realize that what they study is relevant and meaningful in the way that it helps them explain the world they see (even if they previously neither noticed nor felt the need to explain the waves on a puddle they accidentally stepped in).

There are different types of tasks that can help students achieve that level of observation and fascination with their subject (and if you are interested in what specific tasks can look like, check out the link on our poster, that will lead you to a blog post that links to all the different examples I am giving in the following, with tons of pictures).

For example, students could be asked to find realizations of a phenomenon in the world around them. It’s good to start with an easy example that they can definitely find in many different locations. In our case, “find a hydraulic jump” works well, because those can be generated artificially by turning on the tap in your sink, or can be observed near any weir, most rain gutters, and many rivers. These examples can be shared via the classes content management system or via social media – both work well and offer the added benefit of requiring some sort of description and explanation of what was observed and where, thereby practicing both note-taking and reporting skills.

Students could also be asked to observe a specific phenomenon in a specific place and discuss how the time of observation might have influenced what they saw, and how they would set up a schedule for observations that would be best suited to document the phenomenon. An example for that is looking at a tidal current underneath a specific bridge. Depending on what time and what day it is observed during the spring and neap cycle, the flow might be observed having different strengths or even going in different directions.

I am also a big fan of the more open “find something interesting to observe that is somehow related to the concepts discussed in class”, and being open to what students come up with. If you are worried about students not finding something interesting, I would encourage you to look at my Instagram @fascinocean_kiel, where I have almost 900 pictures of mainly waves (and a few other interesting oceanic phenomena) with explanations of what I saw. Once you start looking, there is physics everywhere!

The best thing about a collection like the one on my Instagram (or the one you are building by asking students to document their observations) is that they can be used for an indoor version of this #FieldWorkFix: Assigning pictures to students with the task to annotate and explain what they see. (Which is surprisingly difficult! I get often sent #FriendlyWaves; pictures of water with the request to explain what is going on there, and while it is very entertaining and educational, it is also really difficult because many of the relevant metadata does not come with a picture).

And finally, one could give the very open task to either come up with, or answer a given, research question by doing observations in the neighbourhood.

Depending on the social distancing requirements, all these tasks could be assigned to students working either in teams or by themselves. But if one of the learning outcomes is to practice working in teams, as it often is, this can be accommodated either way:

Several students can work together on the same research question and either do this together, or – which is most likely the mode they would choose in any case – divide work and take turns taking observations. This means they are also developing observational and collaboration skills: all have to be on the same page when it comes to what properties to observe by which methods and at what place and time, how to document, how much and what kind of metadata needs to be archived, how work is split between the students, et cetera.

Students could also be given complementing tasks that they each complete individually, knowing that they will ultimately have to put their results together like a puzzle. This, again, practices a lot of observational and communication skills.

The results of these tasks can be brought together either asynchronous, i.e. students report back in writing via the content management system or social media, or synchronous in video calls where students give presentations and there is a group discussion.

Lastly, one of the big learning outcomes often associated with field work is building students’ “identity as scientists”. Students come back from the field and talk about how we, meaning we oceanographers, or more generally, we scientists, do field work. Of course, the experience of a local field trip is not the same as a multi-day research cruise. But looking for phenomena related to ones field of study has an effect on how one sees the world. Very quickly, students will look at the world with different eyes, seeing physics where other people see the sparkly ocean or a fluffy cloud. This change in perception helps students feel like a specialist on their subject, as someone who has a deeper interest and wider knowledge than most people around them, and who looks at phenomena more carefully, trying to understand them. And this is a vicious circle: once hooked, it is difficult to stop looking at the world through that lens. Which is exactly what we wanted!

Thank you for your attention!

#KitchenOceanography: Bringing physical oceanography into students’ homes

This post is the longer version of the (A4!) poster that I (Mirjam) am presenting on behalf of myself, Kjersti Daae, Elin Darelius, Joke Lübbecke and Torge Martin at the #FieldWorkFix conference today (September 8, 2020). If you would rather listen to the voiceover than read the transcript below, please feel free to do that below! (Thanks to Torge, the final voice over is only about 1/3rd the length of the blogpost that I originally wrote to use as script for the voice ocer :-D)

#KitchenOceanography: Bringing physical oceanography into students’ homes

Welcome to our virtual poster! I want to tell you about #KitchenOceanography: experiments that students can do at home, using common household items. Whether due to Covid-19, or institutional constraints like the lack of laboratory spaces or instructors, or simply because a hands-on experience would be useful with a certain concept, but it’s not on the syllabus – #KitchenOceanography is a great substitute for doing experiments in a laboratory course when that isn’t possible.

We use #KitchenOceanography when teaching physical oceanography and climate sciences. But the concept of home experiments can easily be transferred to other fields, and I therefore want to present the learning outcomes we can achieve on a fairly abstract level. If you would like to learn about #KitchenOceanography experiments in detail rather than just the general concept which I am presenting here, please follow the link on our poster to a blog post in which I have linked to tons of examples of different learning outcomes and experiments (and to all the experiments mentioned here, as well as 24 easy starter experiments).

One typical learning outcome in laboratory courses is the deepening of understanding of concepts that are theoretically dealt with in a lecture. If the concept itself cannot easily, affordably or safely be transformed into a home experiment, you could ask students to come up with a demonstration of an analogy with the concept instead. We have done that when teaching about processes that govern the El-Niño-Southern-Oscillationpattern in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, students cannot build a physical model that represents all the processes in the ocean and atmosphere that are relevant, but they can come up with demonstrations that show analogies of the cycle.

Another learning outcome in a laboratory might be developing intuition on the one hand, but also checking intuition against observations and explaining counterintuitive results. A great experiment here is to ask students to place ice cubes in two beakers with room-temperature water, one salt water and one freshwater. Asking students to predict which of the ice cubes will melt faster leads to 90% wrong predictions, and because it is really difficult to come to terms with a wrong intuition, it will lead to a lot of learning around experimental skills. Students will ask themselves if they maybe accidentally swapped the beakers because they didn’t take notes of which one was which. They might try to taste the water to test which of the beakers contains salt water (tasting in a lab of course being a big no-no). Even if the course is on a subject that is not related to ocean physics at all, this experiment still holds a huge potential to practice – and gaining appreciation for – laboratory skills.

A third common learning outcome in laboratory courses is for students to exercise curiosity and practice creativity. Using an experiment like the melting ice cubes one I just described ALWAYS works to do just that. Students will always come up with questions that they want to investigate. What would happen if the ice cubes weren’t floating in the water, but were forced down to the bottom of the beaker? Or if the ice cubes weren’t frozen fresh water, but had been made from salt water? In my experience, even students from other subjects that rolled their eyes when I told them they were going to do an experiment with water and ice in plastic cups get hooked and want to understand why their intuition was wrong and what more there is to explore.

Another learning outcome often connected to laboratory courses is to develop reporting skills. With the ice cube experiment I already showed the importance of taking notes even when experimenting only in your kitchen, and #KitchenOceanography lends itself to practicing writing lab reports: now many of the materials and conditions need to be described in a lot more detail because the cooking salt that I use in my kitchen might not have the same composition as the one that you are using, which might be kosher, or enriched in iodine, or reduced in sodium. So if we want to be able to compare results later on, all these things need to be written down. And of course, reporting skills might take a different form than a conventional lab report, especially when students are socially isolated, using for example social media or blogs as an outlet might provide them with community, feedback and recognition.

Lastly, a common learning outcome is to recognize problems and errors during experimentation. Since #KitchenOceanography is less supervised than a typical laboratory class, students will inevitably trouble-shoot more independently, and it’s a good idea to explicitly include reflection on what went wrong and how it was fixed in both documentation and discussion of the experiments.

So what would it look like to use #KitchenOceanography as #FieldWorkFix?

We have run #KitchenOceanography experiments in different instructional settings. Back in the day when we were still teaching in-person classes, in addition to using them as hands-on experiments within class, we gave them as homework. One task was to find a way to measure the salinity of a water sample the students were given, and came up with many surprising and creative solutions. In this setting, #KitchenOceanography was already done asynchronous: students did the experimental work whenever it suited them and report back. It can be done in exactly the same way, and reporting back can happen either in writing or in the class’ video call.

What we have had a lot of success with last semester, though, was a synchronous setup. In a video call, students did simplified versions of an experiment, and the instructor showed the full version of the experiment that students would have run in class, had that been possible. In our case, the experiments would ideally have been conducted on a rotating table to simulate Earth’s rotation. And while I have one in my home, not many students do. So we asked students to do the non-rotating version at home, while I presented the rotating version. The added benefit was that we took time to compare and contrast the two different versions and were thus able to isolate the effects of Earth’s rotation – something we would not have spent time on had students had the opportunity to work hands-on with the rotating tables themselves.

We had three modes of presenting the “full” version of the experiment: using pre-recorded videos (which is definitely the more error-proof way to do it!), running the experiments as a demonstration in real time, or asking students to “remotely control” me doing the experiment by telling me what parameters to modify to which values. This worked by me joining the video call with two devices: One that was recording myself and my experimental setup, looking into the tank from the side, and one that was mounted above the experimental setup and showed the top view (which was relevant for the experiment we were doing). Students shared their experiments via video stream when they chose to. The class was taught by a second instructor, which is what we would definitely recommend: Having one person host the meeting and deal with questions and difficulties as they arise, and have a second person focus on doing the experiment.

All in all, despite the unavoidable tech problems, doing these video conferences where we all did experiments together, were a lot of fun for all involved, and definitely helped make the somewhat sad and lonely experience of learning alone at home, instead of hands-on with a nice group of people, less lonely and a lot more fun.

Thank you for your attention.

Polar 2018

This week in Davos (Switzerland) about 2000 people are gathering to talk about Polar Sciences!

I (Lucie Vignes) am here to listen to a lot of talk about ocean dynamics, ocean-ice interactions but also talks about sciences-policy issues and women’s perspectives on Polar research! I came with a poster a well, speaking about both data from the Weddell Sea and our experiments in Grenoble. It was a good occasion to meet very interesting people and to share my research. This is my first big conference!

In front of my poster at Polar 2018. Photo: Lucie Vignes


Going to EGU—a huge European geoscience conference

As scientists it’s not enough to only do research alone in our little office, but we also need to get among other scientists to find out what new research is being done, to network and to make other’s aware of our important piece of work. Each year, there is a big European geoscience conference (EGU) in Vienna which again took place last week. 15000 scientists attended from more than 100 different countries and I (Nadine) was among them! In my luggage: A poster presenting our experiments at the Coriolis platform and some first results. This was very exciting, because it is a unique opportunity to talk to other scientists doing similar research. I was even co-convener in a session about the Southern Ocean which means I got to pick the talks and helped preparing everything in advance! After that week I was very exhausted, but happy! The program was stuffed with interesting talks and posters about Antarctica, oceanography, ice shelves, ice shelf—ocean interaction and glaciers and I got to talk to many skilled, interested and motivated scientists. All of them loved our experiments on the water-filled mary-go-round!

Happily presenting our poster at this year’s European geoscience conference (EGU) in Vienna!