Talbot County Public Schools named Pierson its Community Partner of the Month for March. He was presented a basket of baked goods prepared by students in the culinary program.
“It was exciting to be recognized, and a huge surprise,” Pierson said. “The recognition is particularly nice because I think this program highlights how important collaboration can be for success in research and teaching. Plus, the baked goods were delicious!”
For two years, Pierson has been working with the students in the Gifted and Talented and STEM programs to help them learn about the affect climate change has on plankton.
The students spent most of their time in the classroom working on a series of interdisciplinary projects.
“Through that, they are introduced to real-world examples of how climate change and plankton are interrelated, and they learn a little bit about different kinds of plankton,” said Pierson, who focuses his research on zooplankton ecology.
Bolstered by their introductory lessons, the students arrived at Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge for some hands-on activities with Pierson. At the lab, they used kits from Washington College's Center for Environment and Society to build their own remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), which mirror those scientists use to collect data from the ocean.
I think that having students interact with real scientists is a good way to show them that a career in science is possible. For me, working with students is fun and exciting, and it helps me practice how I communicate about the work that I do.
The students outfitted their ROVS with a "plankton catcher" they built in the classroom and then deployed their vehicles to collect plankton from different locations around the lab.
“We try to have them sample different types of water—off the pier, in the boat basin, deep water, surface water—and then look and see if the types or amounts of plankton they catch differ,” Pierson said.
At the end of the lesson, the students wrote about their experiences and presented to their peers. This year, some of the students also shared their results with the Talbot County school board.
Pierson credited his colleagues at the lab and local educational professionals from NOAA and science communicators from Assemble, a non-profit design firm, for their help with the project.
Two years ago, the school district had been looking to the community for opportunities to work on marine science-related projects, and Pierson said he was happy participate.
“I think that having students interact with real scientists is a good way to show them that a career in science is possible,” he said. “For me, working with students is fun and exciting, and it helps me practice how I communicate about the work that I do. I always find that students ask really insightful questions that force me to really think about why and how I do what I do. Plus, it's a lot of fun to get out of my office, get wet, and show people something that has long fascinated me, but that may be all new to them.”