NOAA Teacher at Sea
(Soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 13-28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2016
Spreads Like a Ripple
“Yep, sounds exciting, but you teach about Pacific Salmon, so how useful is learning about Hammerhead Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico really going to be?” my friend asked.
Her reaction was not unusual. I am a 4th grade teacher with 26 years of experience in the Everett Public Schools in Washington State. I have put some serious thought into using my Teacher At Sea experiences to open eyes and minds to the world around us. I think the possibilities are endless.
My first Teacher at Sea assignment was summer 2006 aboard NOAA ship, RAINIER, on a hydrographic survey mission in the Shumagin Islands, Gulf of Alaska. From this I developed lessons on making contour maps using sticks and a sounding box. I grew my understanding of how weather systems that develop in the Gulf of Alaska influence our weather in Puget Sound. I used that knowledge to help students understand relationships between geography, weather and climate. I learned about birds, mammals and fish in the ocean food chain and inserted that learning into helping students understand the life cycle of the salmon we raise in our classroom.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to share a Teacher in the Air experience with fellow TASA Dana Tomlinson from San Diego, California. We flew with a winter storm research crew from Portland, Oregon; traveling 1800 miles out over the Pacific Ocean and back tracking developing weather systems. We created lessons that helped students understand the importance of using accurate global positioning information to follow low pressure systems as they moved across the ocean toward the west coast of North America. We put together a unit to help them understand how air pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction are measured and how that data is used to understand and predict weather patterns. My students still use those lessons as we participate in the GLOBE program, sending data in every day of the school year.
That was then, and this is now:
At school, I have students use globes and inflatable Earth Balls to track from the Arctic Ocean through every other ocean and back to the Arctic without taking their pointer-fingers off ocean surface. Then they start to get it… the connections: there is really just one big ocean! We learn about the water cycle and I challenge them to explain “where the water comes from.” We learn about food webs and energy flow. Our salmon studies teach them about producers, consumers and decomposers. They get the idea of cycles and systems and how all parts must work together. They learn to consider what happens when one step of a cycle fails or one part of a system is missing. We learn about organisms labeled “indicator species” that help scientists track changes in the health of ecosystems.
True, all of this is presented with a focus on where we live in the Pacific Northwest. But…that is just one place on the edge of our one ocean. Time comes to broaden the view. There are many life cycles depending upon the continual efficient functioning of Earth’s systems. Since there is just one ocean, nothing really happens in isolation. The same kinds of events that disrupt life cycles in one place will certainly disrupt them in another.
In August I will be aboard the NOAA ship, OREGON II, in the Gulf of Mexico. Our mission is to investigate and gather data about Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and Red Snapper. They share an ecosystem and participate in the same food web. They are subject to consequences of the same environmental changes and catastrophes that happen in other parts of our ocean.
Drop a pebble into the water anywhere and ripples spread until they reach the outermost boundaries. We all share one ocean. Where does the ripple stop?