Hatfield gearing up to bring science into homes

A pair of homeschoolers works on a project with a parent during last year’s Fall Family Homeschool Days at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The center is currently closed to the public, but educators are working to provide resources online to out-of-school students. (Photo courtesy of Oregon Sea Grant)

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NEWPORT — While Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center is closed due to the threat of coronavirus, the life inside is still tended to by faithful caretakers, and its associated educators are working hard to extend online resources to out-of-school kids.

Maureen Collson, visitor center manager, said the aquarists of the Aquatic Animal Health Program are still feeding and caring for the center’s marine denizens — they’re regularly posting updates and “meditations” to their own Facebook page at tinyurl.com/qv3o5u7 — and you can still get an up-close view of the giant Pacific octopus via the OctoCam at tinyurl.com/wvm5xf5.

Even if you’ve been to Hatfield to see the cephalopod before, or have watched the OctoCam, it’s likely to be eight new legs in the tank now. Giant octopuses only live about four years, so the center keeps them just a few months before returning them to the ocean, and they’re always looking for octopus donations from fishermen who might catch them inadvertently.

The live camera runs 24 hours a day, but there’s likely to be the most activity during feeding times at 1 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. All ages can enjoy the octopus.

The center is also working to hold a version of some April events online. Tracy Crews, Oregon Sea Grant Marine Education Program Manager (the visitor center is an operation of Oregon Sea Grant, seagrant.oregonstate.edu, one of 33 state NOAA Sea Grant programs that focus on science education and development in coastal communities), said they hoped to hold streaming sessions with researchers who had been scheduled to present at Careers in Science Investigation, which was to be held at the center on April 30 but has now been canceled.

The one-hour, live video programs would feature presentations by science professionals on their backgrounds and the application of technology in their jobs and allow participating students to ask questions. Presentations would be geared toward middle and high school students.

“Although our in-person programs have been canceled due to the outbreak, we really are committed to supporting marine education in any way we can,” Crews said.

Lisa Blank, executive director of the center’s partner organization, Oregon Coast STEM Hub, said the hub has just revamped its home page (oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu) with a “Let’s Keep Learning” portal, which links to an activity calendar and resource center. Online events are linked on the resource page — things like NOAA webinars on collecting ocean data from space — and there’s a list of resources for at-home learning activities in subjects from biology to engineering. There’s something for kids of every grade level, and there are also links to resources for educators.

The online portal is still a work in progress. They’re having to adapt quickly to a temporary new reality, as is everyone these days, and it will continue to be updated regularly. Blank said they hope to have daily online STEM lessons going by next week, with at-home activities that can be done using everyday household items like baking soda and paper clips.

“If there’s something the public thinks would be helpful, we’re really thinking about this as we’re all in it together, and we’d love to learn what it might be. So please drop us an email, let us know what’s working and what might be more helpful,” Blank said.

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