This week, we are excited to share an interview we had with Jodi Stewart, Land Program Manager at Marine Science Institute (MSI). Jodi has her B.S. in Biology from the University of Wisconsin and Undergrad Honors Thesis from Deakin University, Australia. Prior to joining the MSI team, she worked as a wetland delineation field assistant, quality assurance lab technician, and educator for the YMCA. She has over 10 years of experience working in Environmental Education and eight years with Marine Science Institute!
She has held many roles with MSI, from educator, development assistant, and school programs coordinator. Her current role oversees all land-based and online programs. Land-based programs include field trips to MSI, field trips to the coast, and in-school visits. She is the collaborative representative for local community partnerships and is the lead for NGSS documentation.
Check out our interview below as we discuss the background of Marine Science Institute, its program offerings, and how you can get involved!
Tell us about Marine Science Institute.
Marine Science Institute is a nonprofit based in Redwood City. It started in 1970 with the main mission to get people out and to have hands-on access to the San Francisco Bay. Before that, there were not many experiences like ours for students. That’s really who we cater to – students during the school year. We also have a pretty strong summer camp where students in kindergarten through high school participate in our programs.
Why is it important for students to have hands-on learning experiences?
It’s important because it gets them excited and curious! Hands-on, in-person experiences help reach students across language barriers. Their participation with school-based hands-on learning also helps bridge gaps with students who might not have the opportunity on their own. This is a safe space for students to have hands-on access, get curious, and have their questions answered! It’s a great way to get them excited, and when they are excited, they care, and they want to help protect this special place.
What goes into the design and creation of MSI’s curriculum and learning experiences?
The main things we use in our curriculum are the habitats and animals that are right here. We are keeping it a local experience to tie in these overarching themes. This is something the teachers can pick when they’re coming to our classes – they might choose a program that focuses on food webs, and so during the program, we’re able to tie that into every single activity. Some other common themes are biodiversity, adaptations, and we can even go through the scientific theory of making a hypothesis, collecting data, and having students practice providing and presenting that data.
What have traditionally been some of your most popular programs? Why?
Our flagship program is the Discovery Voyage, that’s how we got started, with our boat. Our current boat, Robert G. Brownlee, was not our first ship. Previous to Robert G. Brownlee we had an old WWII ship, the Inland Seas, that we would take kids out on! The program today is very similar, the students operate the equipment and go through stations, learning about the benthos, plankton, hydrology, and Ichthyology. We have had kids and parents come by and recollect their experiences with us. All of our experiences are memorable, but the boat really hits home because you’re on the water and that’s just a different experience.
The boat program is grade-dependent, though. If you’re under 4th grade you can’t go on the boat, so we have a land-based program that mirrors that, so that is especially popular for 3rd grade. But if there is a transportation barrier and kids can’t come out, we also have programs that take our animals to the classroom so that they are still getting a hands-on experience with these habitats. They may not be able to go out to the rocky shore if they live in Antioch, so we are happy to bring those animals to them.
How has MSI and its offerings changed over the past year? What will this look like moving forward?
When the pandemic first started, we didn’t have much for online programming. Our focus has been on in-person, hands-on experiences. The last year has given us the chance to flex our wings and try some new things. Our online programs were introduced because of COVID-19 restrictions and the virtual learning schools offered for the fall. We mirror our programs during an online lesson with videos of our animals from our aquarium, out in the field, and footage from local habitats. We provide the experience in a different way. The programs are still inquiry-based so it’s asking them those questions about their observations and previous knowledge so we can build upon it. We’ve also expanded our reach. Thanks to online education, we’ve even been able to reach students all over California, the US, and Asia!
We’ve offered some extensions of our programming this last year. We were able to offer more to homeschool students since they are not tied to the same online schedules that public school students are. We have increased our homeschool reach, as well as after school, offering programs on a weekly drop-in basis. We have also been able to expand our public programs for families, so we extended a younger program during the week, and offer more family trips on the weekends.
Moving forward, it’s so unknown. I think teachers are planning to bring kids out on field trips, but I know there are some hoops we will need to figure out. We are planning on keeping mask requirements right now to keep everyone comfortable. I think there is room for online education in the future, but I don’t know what that looks like – it could be an add-on or a standalone option. Another thing to consider is wildfire season, homeschool/pod groups shifting to online learning, and continue to monitor changes to public health with COVID-19.
How does MSI partner with districts and schools?
We are in quite a few different partnerships or collaborations. We are working with San Francisco Unified School District, San Mateo COE, Santa Clara COE, so we are partnering with their organizations to provide a uniform approach to getting kids to experience something since some teachers may need additional support. We partner with a few schools that way, and through other collaborations, we’re working more closely with Mountain View Whisman School where every 4th and 5th-grade student gets an experience either through the classroom or on a field trip. Same with the East Palo Alto Charter School. In this collaboration, we make sure we reach every grade. Our partnership depth varies for each collaboration, but we are in overarching partnerships to hopefully get those programs out there.
Do you often have repeat students for your programs?
One partnership I forgot to mention is with John F. Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, and we see every student from the 6th grade for the entire school year. They go and collect data and then compare data between different seasons. We are able to do that work through a specific grant. A lot of our programs are one-time programs. We could provide some type of experience multiple times, they would see for a program – such as an in the classroom, a field trip, and a final in-classroom program – like a bookended type of program. We mostly see the same teachers every year, and we are incorporated into their curriculum.
What has been the response of the community?
Overall, the community has been super supportive. I was touched by the donations that we received from canceled camp registrations where a lot of people opted to donate their registration fees rather than receive a refund. That was incredibly moving.
Schools have embraced the online programs because that is what we needed to do, and feedback from teachers has been super appreciative of what we are offering and the level of education that the kids are receiving from the programs.
What’s been the most memorable experience at MSI over the past year?
The outpouring of support when our ship needed emergency maintenance was very memorable for me. The boat couldn’t run, we had to pull it out. We have the scheduled maintenance built into our budget for every other year and an emergency haul-out is quite expensive. That was the most memorable moment, being able to come together and have that support.
Also, a fun animal that we caught, which I think was the first documented bat ray in San Francisco Bay that was an albino! That was quite a memorable catch.
How can the community best support the work MSI is doing?
All of it! Becoming aware of who we are, word of mouth is definitely the biggest way people hear about us – through family recommendations for camp, through teacher recommendations – so there’s that part of it. What families can do is to join us on a weekend out on the boat or in our canoes, or even go out tide pooling. That is a way we can inspire their students, getting them outside. A lot of the time the students coming out are already engaged, and they are excited about it so we’re able to help them to deepen their knowledge and get more excited about it.
We also have volunteer opportunities for people, as well as corporate groups that are welcome to volunteer on our site. Even if it’s just pulling weeds, it helps so much to have these volunteers or corporate groups come.
As we are a non-profit we do rely on funding and donations heavily for our programs to survive so if you’re unable to come out, donations are always appreciated.
PHOTO CREDIT: Erick Lee Productions
Check out the Marine Science Institute on the California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI) Community-Based Partner Hub hosted by Ten Strands and CAELI, and powered by Green Guardians. The Hub links the K–12 school system with environmental education community-based partners and promotes environmental literacy work across California.
The Marine Science Institute provides engaging and interactive hands-on adventures with San Francisco Bay Area marine life. Led by a team of expert marine science educators, these experiences impact students of all ages, inspiring respect, and stewardship for the marine environment.
Each session students will spend their time learning about Marine Science. This program is designed for learning pod groups and is brought to the home/site of that group. Students will observe live animals found in San Francisco Bay and Northern California Coastal habitats each day. Students will learn marine science concepts through hands-on activities that further their understanding of the Scientific Method.
The Marine Science Institute provides a scientific experience built on California standards-based activities and a memorable voyage into nature for students of all economic backgrounds. The Marine Science Institute puts students in physical contact with the SF Bay and coast environments to help cultivate their natural sense of curiosity, enrich their understanding of science, and foster a responsibility to protect the environment.
Marine Science Institute supports teachers and parents by offering engaging, online group lessons that bring science to life! MSI Online Inland Voyages are interactive, inquiry-based programs taught by expert marine science educators, bringing the wonder of local marine habitats of the San Francisco Bay and Northern California Coasts directly to your students.
Afternoon Ecology: This “afterschool” educational program is designed to foster the natural curiosity of young minds. Students learn about local habitats around San Francisco Bay while working in a team with their peers. This program has a variety of themes that can be taken either as a series or independently. Themes include Bay Area Habitats, Marine Science Exploration, and Bay vs. Ocean Animals.
Drop In, Daily, or Once-A-Week classes available to engage and educate your Jr. marine biologist!
Your investment in Marine Science Institute helps educate more than 60,000 people of all ages each year in marine science and environment stewardship through our School Programs, Family Events, Marine Science Camps, and Coastal Clean-Up Days.
Find and register for upcoming events at the Marine Science Institute.
CAELI, led by Ten Strands, works statewide with guidance from a leadership council to create systems change in support of environmental literacy with a focus on access, equity, and cultural relevance for all students.