Bhavna Rawal: Teacher from Houston, Texas to collect oceanographic data in South Florida! August 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Very Soon to be board the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey/ South Florida Program
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 6, 2012

Introductory Log

Greetings from Houston, TX! I have been a science teacher in Northbrook High School for the last six years and I am going to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Department Chair at the Energized for the STEM academy starting this year. Northbrook High School is in an urban area in west Houston. The school has 1956 students, with 82% Hispanic, 8% black, 7% white, and 3% Asian. Over 80% of the students are in the Free Lunch Program. There are 140 teachers in our school.

I have worked as a physics, STEM and environmental teacher at Northbrook for six years. I am in a curriculum committee and district improvement team. I help with the professional development of the other teachers in our district. I have coached, co-coached and sponsored numerous after-school activities including the green club, and the MIT InvenTeam club. I also organize a community open house every year. As a school science teacher leader, my students’ teams and teachers’ team have done several STEM projects in energy, environmental and oceanic science.

Energy Projects: I used to teach the energy unit by helping students to build electricity circuits in a house designed and made from a foam board for my students to learn the whole unit. But my love of saving energy and the environment inspired me to make the green club students to build the alternative energy house, write and receive the BP energy grant and help my students to receive the National Energy Education Development award in 2008. I also like to travel and do research and bring my experiences back to my classroom. I’ve traveled all over Europe to explore alternative energy and mass transit in 2009 as a Fund for Teachers’ fellow. After coming back from Europe, my student’s team built the future Houston Energy City and participated in city-wide competitions. I love to organize open houses every year in my school and showcase our projects to our teachers, staff, administrators and community. I have helped them perform several energy activities such as the energy audit, energy challenge, and solar cars, wind turbines, recycling program, share a car program, etc. under USDA grant that I have received for three consecutive years.  Under this grant, I have collaborated with my nearest community college and university programs to take students to various field trips and helped students to receive scholarships. My students also received second place in the energy competition in our district schools.

Alternative energy house project
Green Club students

One of my best projects is the invention project called the energy efficient cooling blanket sponsored by the Lemelson MIT program.  We zeroed in on the idea of an “energy efficient cooling blanket”. It was simple, but highly challenging, and would require real technical breakthroughs to actually succeed. I inspired and recruited my students to initiate this project. After we submitted the final proposal, our project was one of 14 finalists selected nationwide to receive the grant. Since the award, I assembled and inspired a volunteer team of students to implement this project. We gelled as a team and worked hard. Our prototype took shape! It was fun and exciting to watch, participate, and guide. I resolved logistical issues with the team, participated in brainstorming, and provided technical guidance and access to experts. In June 2011, our team showcased a prototype of our invention in EurekaFest at MIT!

NHS Lemelson-MIT IntevenTeam

Environmental projects and activities: The science class and green club have done water quality projects with EPA. As an Eye in the sky II ambassador I was fortunate to encourage students to learn and use advanced technology applications to solve community service projects such as Houston’s air pollution for the last ten years using Spatial Technology. With my guidance, my students selected, designed and developed community projects. I work hard to provide my students with the resources that will help them successfully complete their community projects and accomplish their own personal goals.

I was selected in a Toyota International teacher program to Costa Rica in 2011. During my trip, I analyzed and compared plants and animals from cloud forest, rainforest and dry Pacific forests in Costa Rica. I documented my observations using pictures, videos, and artifacts. I brought back information packets, photos, handouts, videos and personal experiences that were shared with my students, fellow teachers, administration and community. I collaborated with my Toyota program cohort group/alumni. I built strong relationships with the people I came in contact with in Costa Rica so that I could bring their first-person voices into my classroom. Students worked on a project called Biodiversity analysis and comparison within Clear Creek, Caney Creek and Mill Creek bayou. The rationale behind this project is to instruct students in field methodologies and introduce students to the concepts of species biodiversity and the biodiversity of interactions. The objectives of this project are: Students will be able to quantitatively assess and compare biodiversity of three distinct plant and animal communities within the three bayous and students will be able to distinguish the concepts of biodiversity of species and biodiversity of tropic interactions. In preparation, my students review the project work that I have performed in Costa Rica, analyze the data, and present comparative study with conclusions. When they are prepped, the students undertake the project in their chosen location and calculate biodiversity of each community in terms of species/area.

Biodiversity study with the Toyota Teachers International group

Recently I have participated in the 2012 Japan-U.S. teacher exchange program for education for sustainable development (ESD). This program was from the Japan Fulbright fund. What I learned during this program was to enrich and expand my school program. I have explored ESD resources and visited to ESD-focused schools. I experienced the Japanese culture and have visited cultural sites. I heard different viewpoints of educators from Japan and the U.S. by attending a joint conference between the Japanese and U.S. teachers. Since it is a collaborative project, it offers students the opportunity to increase their international awareness of ESD and to expand communication beyond our community. This participation allowed me to connect lessons learned from Europe, Central America, the United States, and Japan for educational experiences for students to help them envision the future through a global perspective.

U.S.-Japan ESD group

This summer, I was also selected by Fund for Teacher fellowship which is a self-designed learning odyssey to research the wealth of biodiversity pervasive in Costa Rica’s various biomes to create a unit of study that helps students grasp abstract concepts associated with sustainability and understand the implications of human activity on the environment. After pursuing scientific data, participating in seminars, volunteering with community organizations and observing best practices, I will return to my classrooms as leading learners to inspire my students and school communities.

Soil testing in Corcovado national park, Costa Rica

I am very excited to be a part of this cruise (WS1212), R/V Walton Smith scientific team which is from NOAA and the University of Miami.  I will learn, starting from collecting water samples to various scientific testing, documentation, regular routines and communication among team members and professional societies.

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