News writing and production student Elizabeth Fortier interviewed professor Lareen Smith on March 24th. The interview concerned Smith’s project with students in a marine science class, in which they have collected data from Casco Bay through a buoy. Smith has been a full-time professor for three years, and was inspired to become an instructor at SMCC because of her own experience in community college.
Elizabeth: Why did you choose this project for your students?
Professor Smith: This particular project, we had just learned about the topography of the ocean bottom. Learning about the shape of the ocean basins, and had been doing labs on sea water chemistry, and getting these basically vertical profiles of data looking at temperature, pH, and some other things. This was right off of the SMCC dock using different instruments. We wanted to kind of scale that up on a larger level, so looking at if we go further out into the water, like in a deep water basin, what are we seeing? Are there differences between winter and summer months, and kind of knowing based on the literature, our region has been warming over the past many years. Do we see a difference in trends in that temperature between two time periods, and not just seasonally? I really chose it to ask some of those questions, related to some other work we were doing.
Elizabeth: What was the objective of this study?
Professor Smith: If I back up a little bit to choosing the project, or really its relevance is really geared towards students feeling comfortable with data and being able to organize data in a way that they can look at graphically. Its important to communicate information, and the best way to do that sometimes is visually, right? So getting students comfortable with organizing it in a way that they can look at graphically, and then actually see that the line goes up over time or decreases. So part of the relevance was getting students comfortable with that type of science, and this necessary tool in science of making graphs.
For the project itself, the objective was to see if they found any differences. And we cant really say true differences, we’re not doing any statistical analysis on this data. Based on these graphs that they made, did they see any trends that are occurring in this time period from 2006, which I just kind of went back to a date that was semi normal as far as temperature goes, and then whats happening within this last year. We could’ve used a lot of different perimeters, but temperature was one they were really interested in. So, do we see differences in temperature between those two time periods? And then we looked at two times of the season, and that really related to this basin. We see weird stuff happening in the basin where its actually warmer deeper in the winter, and of course its cooler at the surface because its interacting with the atmosphere, and in the winter the air is cooler. So it was interesting for them to see that it actually stays warmer in the winter. You would think the whole basin and all of the water is colder in the winter, but that’s actually not what’s happening there.
Elizabeth: What is something you hope the students take away from this project?
Professor Smith: So as far as the takeaway, for all of the projects I have my students do, I want them to ask questions and not be afraid to ask questions. I want them to feel confident to play around with data and organize data. This is a non major science course too, so a lot of students don’t come in with a lot of knowledge of how to deal with spread sheets and data and all of that. So to try to have them not be as intimidated by data, and learn this skill of making graphs and asking questions about maybe what they see in those graphs.
Elizabeth: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Professor Smith: We do have to be careful to say “well what we see looks like a difference in temperature,” and then to start asking questions and digging into this scientific data, to see what has already been done. So, that’s usually a big hurdle. To not make such an interpretation of the graph, that’s like this is what’s happening. Instead have it lead to more questions, which is good because then you can do research to what’s going on.
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