Marine Education Specialist Chris Petrone
Photo by Lisa Tossey
Ten years ago, Chris Petrone was studying fiddler crab larvae in Lewes as part of his graduate research at the University of Delaware. He left after earning his master’s degree to become an educator in Virginia, but he returned earlier this year to share his passion for marine science with teachers statewide.
“There is fascinating global and local research underway at the University,” Petrone said. “I hope to bring that science to as many Delaware teachers and students as possible and encourage the next generation of marine scientists.”
In his new role as a marine education specialist with the University’s Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service in Lewes, Petrone spends much of his time translating complex scientific topics into terms and activities that teachers can use in the classroom. For example, he developed a lesson recently about sea breezes that incorporates the analysis of real-time data from the online Delaware Environmental Observing System. Instead of starting with the terms differential heating and frontogenesis, however, he invites students to imagine spending a day swimming at the beach, coming onshore for a snack, and experiencing the sudden temperature dip, wind shift, and humidity rise that often occur in the afternoon.
“If you go after that story and really try to relate it to students and their world, it’s going to be more interesting and understandable,” he said.
Petrone focuses on bringing ocean science into elementary through high school classrooms through teacher training, lesson development, and publications like a popular horseshoe crab model. He hopes to offer a summer field course that takes educators into different local habitats to conduct water quality, biological, and geological sampling, while also addressing challenges that teachers may encounter while taking students into the field. He is also aligning free field trips to the University’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes with state science standards, making the experience more valuable for teachers.
Outings into the field are part of what sparked Petrone’s own interest in marine science. While attending Washington College in Chestertown, Md., the Philadelphia native planned to study physical therapy but changed course after several hands-on field labs for an ecology class. After graduating he earned a master’s degree in marine studies from the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment in 2003. He gained experience in the classroom as a high school marine science teacher before transitioning to a marine education specialist position at Virginia Sea Grant.
Part of what he enjoys about his field is that it is cross-disciplinary, incorporating math, biology, physics, chemistry, and even history.
“You can use ocean science to cover so many areas,” he said.