Steven Wilkie: July 4, 2011

JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 4, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 29.31
Longitude -94.79
Speed 0.00 kts
Course 172.00
Wind Speed 4.99 kts
Wind Dir. 268.67 º
Surf. Water Temp. 30.60 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 30.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 68.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1014.50 mb
Water Depth 10.40 m

Personal Log

My final watch ended last night with what was one of our largest catches of the trip.  The knowledge that it was our last trawl–well mine at least–and the Oregon II will head back out in a few days for its final leg of the ground fish survey, allowed us to knock it out in no time.

Our final (and one of our largest) catches waiting to be sorted.

It is amazing how similar my experience has been on this trip to the experiences I have with my students in my classes at school.  They come in “green” on the first few days of class: some of them have a some background knowledge, some of them have little, but slowly but surely as we build on their existing knowledge they get to a point where they are confident enough to speak up about issues and content that we have been discussing.  Towards the end of the year, they can link the ideas of what was talked about at the beginning of the year to what we discussed the week before final exams.  Everything is connected.

I feel now, how I hope my students feel on their last few days of my classes.  A sense of understanding, a battery of skills that I didn’t have when I started now at my disposal, and an appreciation for what it is that the people who taught me know and do on a daily basis.  In all of my years of professional development, summer workshops and the like, I can say that none has been as enjoyable or rewarding as this experience.

With the help of chief scientist Michael Hendon, I remove the otiliths (ear bones) from a snapper. These bones can be used to help determine the age of a fish.
I came into the Teacher at Sea program with a good sense of the marine environment, and I have relied heavily on NOAA’s resources for years to help my students better understand the ocean and its processes.  But to see firsthand how some of that information is gathered and to get a sense of how hard these scientists work to ensure their data and procedures are valid is both commendable and reassuring, as I am consistently telling my students how good procedures will lead them to good data, and will, in turn, allow them to draw well-supported conclusions.

I pride myself on the hands-on approach I bring to science in my classroom, and nothing is more hands on then being elbow deep in 600 croakers flopping on the deck!  Everyone learns differently. I am a learn-by-doing kind of guy, and I try to provide as much of that in my classroom as possible, but even doing something doesn’t guarantee that you will understand it–that often requires a good teacher.  The Oregon II’s crew is the epitome of good teachers in action.  I have to personally extend a thank you to Brittany Palm, my watch leader, and Michael Hendon the chief scientist on board.  Both of these gifted scientists helped me go from a fumbling, taxonomically challenged amateur, to a less fumbling, taxonomically appreciative assistant in training!  Their patience as we butchered scientific names and misidentified organisms allowed us to slowly but surely get a better understanding of the procedures until we could practically work up a catch on our own. Well, we left the fish we couldn’t identify for them, but none the less….

I am happy to be heading home to my family and to a more regular work day (12 hour shifts are tough), but I do think I will miss the experience and the camaraderie among the people on the ship, and the soothing rhythm of the ship’s engines and the waves.  I hope those of you that read this get a sense of what an awesome experience this is, as well as take away the importance of the work that NOAA does, and the need for it!

My watch on our last day, notice how happy we are! From left Michael Hendon (chief scientist), me, Amy Schmitt, Kristin Foss, Brittany Palm (watch leader).
The Oregon II docked in Galveston

One Reply to “Steven Wilkie: July 4, 2011”

  1. Steven-
    Your blog is awesome! I was a TAS on the Oregon II in the Gulf last summer and it looks like you had a great time and did a fantastic job blogging about it. I’m also jealous because you got a TURTLE! Way to go.
    – Bruce Taterka

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