Maia McGuire, Florida Sea Grant agent for UF/IFAS Extension in Flagler and St. Johns counties, and the chair of the National Sea Grant Education Network, has been named the Florida Wildlife Federation’s 2015 Conservation Educator of the Year.
McGuire, who owes her passion to the ocean to her childhood spent on the islands of Bermuda, has developed a variety of environmental education programs on marine and coastal ecology for teachers and K-12 students. Two of her most popular efforts include a third-grade manatee curriculum and fourth-grade lesson plans about right whales.
“As an instructor, she has taught school children about the ancient horseshoe crab, the necessity of sea oats and the impact climate change is and will have on our natural systems,” wrote Sarah Owen Gledhill, the Florida Wildlife Federation’s northeast Florida planning advocate, in the award ceremony program. “Education is the key to the creation of environmental stewards and Dr. McGuire has successfully dedicated herself to informing others of the need for coastal sustainability, which is an absolute necessity in a state such as Florida.”
McGuire said she decided to focus her efforts in education after teaching two years of high school science.
“That experience made me realize how challenging it is for teachers to find resources and activities to use with their classes,” McGuire said.
She decided to conduct a needs assessment of teachers in northeast Florida and discovered that many elementary school teachers felt they did not have the time to teach science because they were pressured to spend more time on reading, writing and math. She also found that some teachers were uncomfortable teaching science topics because they lacked a scientific educational background.
“As a scientist who has been a classroom teacher, I felt that I could help these teachers by providing them with educational resources, based on the marine environment, that addressed science standards along with standards for reading, writing and math,” she said. “The feedback that I have received from teachers has been that I have achieved this goal. The students enjoy learning about ‘charismatic megafauna’ like manatees or whales, and they are eager to complete the lessons even if they require reading, writing, math or science skills.”
McGuire said she’s grateful to receive an award for doing something she has been passionate about for so long.
“I was honored to receive the award,” she said. “It is humbling to be rewarded for something that you enjoy doing.”