Teaching and Learning Coastal Processes through Research in a Non-Lab Science Course and Having Fun at the Same Time

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Joann Thissen, NASSAU Community College, Huntington, NY, United States
At Nassau Community College students are required to take one lab science and one non-lab science. These two science courses will probably be the only sciences courses they’ll take in their college career. What are they looking for in a science course? “Is it easy?” “Will we have fun?” I can try for “fun” but “easy” and “science” seem to be oxymorons. I’ve found that they don’t notice the difficulty when they’re having fun. With this is mind I set out to create a course that would fulfill this requirement but also challenge them to learn science through hands-on, real-life, placed based activities and projects. Beaches and Coasts is essentially a coastal processes course that requires a full term research project along with other hands-on activities. We live on an island (Long Island, NY). The state of our shoreline impacts all of us - something we saw during Superstorm Sandy. Long Island's shorelines vary tremendously. Our north shore is glacially controlled and irregular with many harbors and bays; our south shore is an Atlantic Ocean coastline with many barrier islands and lagoons that contain many inlets and marshes. Many municipalities have small natural beaches along this coastline.

For their project students choose a shoreline, with input from the instructor, and take "ownership" of it for at least one moon cycle. They collect data on tides, currents, waves, offshore sediment transport and anthropogenic structures and then study the impact of these factors on their section of shoreline. They also collect sediment from their beach to analyze later in the lab. They are given a rubric with the specific requirements and then make a PowerPoint presentation that includes all their data, charts and graphs as well as their photos that they took while doing their research.

Students love doing this project. They can’t believe they get credits for going to the beach – something they do anyway (the “fun” factor). They all say that they’ll never go to the beach the same way again. They take their family and friends taking pleasure in teaching them what they’re learning. This course has become so popular that several sections of it run each term and is offered for all three summer sessions and our winterim session (during January break) each section filling almost immediately. At present an online version of this course is being developed.