“Most visitors enjoy most just sitting under nice palms.”
That’s not a tourist motto. The first letter of each word in that sentence is a code for the planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (still regarded as a planet by many).
Students learn that and more from Evan Forde in O.C.E.A.N.S. (Oceanographic Curriculum Empowering Achievement in Natural Sciences).
O.C.E.A.N.S. is a hands-on program for students ages 13 to 18 that includes math and science, with special focus on marine science and oceanography.
Forde created O.C.E.A.N.S. after looking at Miami-Dade County FCAT scores.
“That was really a call to action,” he said.
Forde, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, said, “I think a lot of people aren’t interested in science because they don’t know how much fun it is.”
A recent program at the North Miami Beach Public Library attracted area middle and high school students. Forde has also taken O.C.E.A.N.S. to Norland Middle School, the North Miami Public Library and North Dade Middle School in Miami Gardens.
The program is free and sponsored by Friends of the North Miami Public Library. Forde credited Sharon Sbrissa, president of the Friends organization, with being a trigger for the program.
“Sharon challenged me to come up with a way to take what I do to the students,” Forde said.
“I think he’s a really great teacher,” said Marlon Brutus, 13, a student at North Dade Middle School.
Forde, a South Florida native, counts his family and explorer Jacques Cousteau as inspirations.
“One of the things my dad stressed is to give back,” he said.
At the North Miami Beach Public Library program, Forde introduced himself to students, telling them about his personal and academic struggles.
“I wasn’t a very good student, I wasn’t an athlete,” Forde said. “Both of my parents were teachers, so it was very unusual.”
But, he told the class, “I had two telescopes…..I was blowing stuff up. From a young age, I was interested in science.”
Forde, a Carol City High School graduate, eventually won an academic scholarship to Columbia University, where he faced competition.
“I was ‘The Man’ at Carol City,” he recalled. “But when I went to Columbia University….everybody was ‘The Man’ where they came from.”
He continued: “There were kids in my class at Columbia who had 170 IQs and had photographic memories. And they all had better study habits than me.”
He worked hard and made it to NOAA, where he has been since 1973.
“I work in a laboratory where it is so hard to get a job, it can take you four to five years,” he told the class.
O.C.E.A.N.S., a six-session program, begins and ends with tests.
“There’s been an average improvement on the pre-test to post-test scores of 67 percent,” Forde said. “If it feels like they’ve discovered it, they’ll never forget it.”
They discovered, for instance, that a can of regular Pepsi is more dense than a can of Diet Pepsi. They did this by sticking the cans, one at a time, into a beaker.
Forde discussed the Scientific Method, and how it might apply to non-scientific matters.
“Can you imagine a bunch of scientists…and we’re all trying to find the answers to different scientific methods, and we’re doing it in different ways?” Forde asked. “If you’re a scientist and you get some results, you should always ask yourself, ‘What else could this mean?’”
Tom Gilfoy, a science teacher at Allison Academy in North Miami Beach, brought some of his students to the program.
“When you write an observation, you need to write it as if the person reading it is reading it a thousand years from now,” Gilfoy said.
Diana Seals, a recent graduate of Florida Memorial University, assists Forde in O.C.E.A.N.S.
“It’s been an experience since the beginning…seeing the light bulbs go off,” she said of the students.
Seals also said she believes oceanography is a natural fit for local students.
“It’s crazy that there aren’t more ocean-related programs in Miami, being so close to the ocean,” she said.
Allison Grossman, 17, an Allison Academy student, plans to study elementary education and writing at Barry University in Miami Shores. She also enjoys science.
“I came here for the learning experience,” she said. “It’s just a great thing to go through.”
Her teacher, Gilfoy, also said he appreciated the program.
“I heard about it through our coach, and after doing nine weeks worth of water and oceans for our ninth grade, we came to reinforce,” Gilfoy said.
He praised Forde.
“There aren’t enough local heroes that can drive students,” Gilfoy said. “I think Mr. Forde is one.”
For more information about O.C.E.A.N.S., visit http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/forde/index.html or contact 305- 361-4327.
Photo courtesy of Evan Forde. Evan Forde leads students in a marine chemistry experiment. Forde started the O.C.E.A.N.S. program to improve FCAT scores and students' interest in science.