A Summer Immersed in the Hudson: Next Generation of Hudson River Educators

September 4, 2020

By Margie Turrin

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The lengthy history of the Hudson River is filled with colorful stories, myths and misunderstandings, providing a lot of material for the Next Generation of Hudson River Educators, a summer internship at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

This summer, student interns had a unique opportunity to create a range of educational outputs as they developed skills in science communication. The outputs utilized a range of different techniques in order to reach broadly across diverse audiences. The student work included reaching out to members of their community in order to gauge their knowledge of the Hudson and to debunk longstanding myths surrounding the Hudson River estuary. Our interns engaged their local communities, whether it was Rockland County or Bronx County, reaching members of different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds while providing them with a base of knowledge on one of the most important geographical features in New York State.

Below, seven of our high school interns discuss their favorite components of the internship.

Making Scientific Data Accessible: Art for Science

— Written by Grace Gonzalez, student, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Art is a method of introducing complex topics and connecting people to science. Visual learners tend to understand images better than graphs, articles, and other forms of learning. Art for science can also be used to help students engage with the subject matter by building a connection to the material for people who otherwise may find it difficult or uninteresting.

drawing of fish in the hudson

Science as Art: Hudson River Fish Illustration by Jonathan Allen. The inspiration for Grace Gonzalez’s STEAM artwork.

Many artists have drawn images to express the beauty and love of science to young minds or those who perceive art as more interesting.

Artist Jonathan Allen created this image (left) of the aquatic life in the Hudson. He has influenced me to create a piece of art and continue this chain of involving people in the science community. I made it small and simple to capture the eye of young future scientists.

student drawing of hudson river species

Life of the Hudson River, by Grace Gonzalez, includes some species that only swim together in the Hudson for part of their lives; species like the Atlantic sturgeon that are anadromous (move from their home in the salty Atlantic to spawn in the upper Hudson freshwater), and American eel that are catadromous (move from their home in the Hudson to spawn in the salty Atlantic). Grace includes some common macroinvertebrates like barnacles, a lion’s mane jellyfish and the iconic blue crab.

Making Scientific Data Accessible: Data Jam

— Written by Yesenia Flores, student, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Data Jams are a cool and fun way of presenting information to audiences of all ages! A data jam is a visual way for scientists to solve problems using data sets. Interns were assigned to create a data product using data of their choice. Kashi, Yi and I created a data activity to show how the levels of sulfur dioxide decreased from the year 1990 to 2016. In order to create this, all three of us had to research data sets of sulfur dioxide in the Cary Institute’s collection of datasets on the Hudson Valley ecosystem. After we were done with our research, we planned the storyline and chose the graphics for our video. We were very proud of our result and so were our peers!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Interactive video by Yesenia Flores, Kashi Nanavati, and Yi Lin

Making Scientific Data Accessible: Game Jam

— Written by Aisha Ali, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Game jams are a method of presenting scientific information in a fun, creative way that makes learning interactive for people of all ages. In order to create a data game, you have to find a story in your data set. Once you figure that out, there are multiple ways to turn it into a game. We split up into teams to create different projects. These included a Hudson River bingo game, and a Kahoot trivia game based on the information from the Cary Institute’s Tuva Datasets.

screenshot of kahoot game

Try out the fish Kahoot created by Aisha Ali, Jeanne Joof and Grace Gonzalez.

My teammates, Grace, Jeanne, and I created a Kahoot using data about the abundance of fish and dissolved oxygen in the Hudson River. One of the challenges we had was generating graphs on Tuva, but with the help of Margie and Laurel, we were able to edit the graphs. It was my favorite project I did in this program, and by the end we had a fun educational game.

Kahoot game by Aisha Ali, Grace Gonzalez, and Jeanne Joof

Myth Busters: Common Hudson River Misconceptions

— Written by Yi Lin, North Rockland High School and Mika Pierre, Spring Valley High School

Did you know that it’s safe to swim in the Hudson River? Before you go off in shock, let us explain. The idea that the water is unsafe to swim in because of its appearance is one of many misconceptions about the river. In fact, we spent a whole week debunking common myths, discussing topics like ‘Is the Hudson dirty?’ ‘Is it a lifeless river?’ and ‘Can anyone eat fish from the Hudson?’ Our outputs proved the myths wrong, and we had fun creating videos and fish advisories to educate others.

Myth #1: Many people assume that the Hudson River is dirty based on its greenish-brown coloration. This coloration is actually known as turbidity, or the transparency of the water. Since the Hudson is tidal, it carries sediments with it up and down the river, creating this look. For this myth, Mika’s group did a video explaining turbidity.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Video by Mika Pierre, Kashi Nanavati, and Aisha Ali

Myth #2: Because of the river’s appearance, many people believe that there’s very little marine life. Contrary to this belief, over 200 different species thrive in the Hudson. For an example of a fish in the Hudson, check out this sturgeon video that Yi’s group made.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Video by Yi Lin, Jed Roth, and Grace Gonzalez

Myth #3: Another misconception is that Hudson River fish are safe to consume. While the fish itself isn’t harmful to eat, there are toxic chemicals, such as PCBs and cadmium, within the river that are absorbed by fish, making it dangerous for human consumption. To help the local communities become aware of these dangers, we adapted the state fish advisories summarizing the regulations for fish that are safe to eat, as well as their respective quantities.

advisories about eating fish from the hudson

The interns created fish advisories for all four sections of the Hudson (starting clockwise top left)

What we found at the end of the week was that myth busters were pretty effective in helping us learn about the Hudson River. They start by introducing a myth and encouraging viewers to share their preconceptions on the topic. Myth busters target what people often think of the river, correcting their misconceptions and building their Hudson River knowledge.

Interviewing and Learning from Our Local Communities

— Written by Tenin Sidime, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem and Jed Roth, Spring Valley High School

For the summer of 2020, we participated in the Next Generation of Hudson River Educator Program. For the past six weeks, we worked on different ways and methods of science communication, and we interviewed our peers, relatives, and community members. We interviewed people Nyack, Haverstraw, and Spring Valley in Rockland County, as well as East Harlem, Westchester County, New Paltz, and the Bronx. Interviewers worked in pairs, one asking questions and the other recording. Each interviewer hand-picked a peer, a relative, and a community member. These interviews provide feedback and a better understanding of what the peers, relatives, and community members know about the Hudson River, their relationship with the Hudson and their community, and how to better target our educational materials.

Thirty-two people were interviewed — a mix of peers, relatives, and community members. We learned from our communities their understanding of the Hudson River. We have uncovered different types of common themes between peers, relatives, and even community members. Some of the overall themes were the misconception of the level of ongoing river pollution, largely based on its color. Additionally, the interviewees enjoy the aesthetics of the river, use it mainly in their transportation and recreation, and they are interested in learning more about it.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Video by Tenin Sidime, Yesenia Flores and Jeanne Joof

Through the interview experiences, we gained an ability to comfortably interview not only our peers, but older community members too. There are differences between what you think of interviewing in your head and the actual process. In your head it seems simple, but in the moment you have to focus on so many different aspects of the interview. Between pacing, smiling, active listening, and memorizing your questions, interviewing definitely has its challenges, especially if it’s your first time doing it. The value of the interview was an opportunity to see what our interviewees knew and didn’t know. We then provided them with information after the interview correcting their misconceptions. I enjoyed hearing what my interviewee wanted to learn and their relationship with nearby rivers and their communities.

Overall, we received an inside peek into the viewpoints of our peers, relatives, and community members on the Hudson River and their involvement in their community. Even though the communities are different, there were similar responses and viewpoints. Although the summer is ending, we are just getting started because there is more to unfold.

Conclusion

The educational outputs that were created by the students are informative and easy to comprehend. They were put to the test at a science-fair type of event that was run by Rockland Conservation and Service Corps. Members from all over Rockland County came to our booth and interacted with their games and their data sets. Community members stepped away with more knowledge than they came to us with, and were in shock learning that the creators were high school interns. Our interns have finished this program with the scientific communication skills that reach across the divides of age and community knowledge.

— Introduction and conclusion written by Moira Delaney, near peer mentor from the Rockland Conservation & Service Corps

The Next Generation of Hudson River Educators Program is a program funded through a grant from the NYS DEC, with support from Old York Foundation, and additional student support from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx and the NSF INCLUDES program. For six weeks this summer the program run virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic with nine high school students, two Rockland Conservation Corps members and Lamont’s Laurel Zaima and Margie Turrin. We explored some of their work on Environmental Justice issues in an earlier post.

Media Inquiries: 
Marie DeNoia Aronsohn
marieda@ldeo.columbia.edu
845-365-8151