NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 12 – August 25, 2018
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2018
Introductory Personal Log
I’m thrilled to be joining NOAA Ship Oregon II for the second leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. The adventure of a lifetime begins in Canaveral, Florida and concludes in Pascagoula, Mississippi. For two weeks, we’ll be studying sharks, red snapper, and other marine life in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Scientists will collect data on fish populations to find out more about their distribution, age, weight, length, reproduction, and other important information. Along the way, we’ll also sample water quality and collect other environmental data. Learning more about these creatures and their surroundings can help to keep their habitats safe and thriving.
This exciting opportunity is the next chapter in my lifelong appreciation for sharks and the sea. During a formative visit to the ocean at age three, I quickly acquired a taste for salt water, seafaring, and sharks. I saw my first shark, a hammerhead, in the New England Aquarium, and I was transfixed. I wanted to know everything about the water and what lived beneath the surface.
After discovering nonfiction in fourth grade, I could access the depths through reading. I was riveted to books about deep-sea creatures and pioneering undersea explorers. The more I learned, the more curious I became. As a younger student, I never indulged my aquatic interests in any formal academic sense beyond prerequisites because of my epic, giant-squid-versus-whale-like struggle with math. Because I was much stronger in humanities and social sciences, I pursued a predictable path into writing, literature, and education.
As a Literacy Specialist, I support developing readers and writers in grades K-5 by providing supplemental Language Arts instruction (Response to Intervention). To motivate and inspire my students, I share my zeal for the ocean, incorporating developmentally appropriate topics to teach requisite Language Arts skills and strategies.
In 2011, I initiated an ocean literacy collaboration with undersea explorer Michael Lombardi and Ocean Opportunity Inc. so that I could better answer my students’ questions about marine science careers and marine life. Our first meeting involved swimming with blue sharks offshore, and I knew I needed more experiences like that in my life. From chumming to helping with the equipment to observing pelagic sharks without a cage, I loved every aspect. This life-changing experience (both the collaboration and the shark encounter) transformed my instruction, reigniting my curiosity and ambition. Our educator-explorer partnership has inspired and motivated my students for the past seven years. After supporting and following my colleague’s field work with my students, I wanted a field experience of my own so that I can experience living, researching, and working at sea firsthand.
Although my fascination with all things maritime began at an early age, working closely with someone in the field transformed my life. Instead of tumbling, I feel like Alice plunging into a watery wonderland, chasing after a neoprene-clad rabbit to learn more. Finding someone who was willing to share their field experience and make it accessible gave me the confidence to revisit my childhood interests through any available, affordable means: online courses, documentaries, piles of nonfiction books, social media, workshops, symposiums, aquaria, snorkeling, and the occasional, cherished seaside visit.
We co-authored and published a case study about our collaboration in Current: The Journal of Marine Education, the peer-reviewed journal of the National Marine Educators Association (Fall/Winter 2016). We wrote about bringing the discovery of a new species of mesophotic clingfish to fourth and fifth grade struggling readers. Since a student-friendly text about the fish did not exist, I wrote one for my students at their instructional reading level, incorporating supportive nonfiction text features.
It’s reinvigorating to switch roles from teacher to student. Ultimately, this unconventional path has made me a more effective, empathetic educator. My students witness how I employ many of the same literacy skills and strategies that I teach. By challenging myself with material outside my area of expertise, I am better able to anticipate and accommodate my students’ challenges and misconceptions in Language Arts. When comprehension of a scientific research paper does not come to me easily on the first, second, or even third attempt, I can better understand my students’ occasional reluctance and frustration in Language Arts. At times, learning a different field reminds me of learning a second language. Because I’m such a word nerd, I savor learning the discourse and technical terminology for scientific phenomena. Acquiring new content area vocabulary is rewarding and delicious. It requires word roots and context clues (and sometimes, trial and error), and I model this process for my students.
Being selected for Teacher at Sea is an incredible opportunity that required determination, grit, and perseverance. Although my curiosity and excitement come very naturally, the command over marine science content has not. I’ve had to be an active reader and work hard in order to acquire and understand new concepts. Sometimes, the scientific content challenges me to retrain my language arts brain while simultaneously altering my perception of myself as a learner. Ultimately, that is what I want for my students: to see themselves as ever-curious, ever-improving readers, writers, critical thinkers, and hopefully, lifelong learners.
I am so grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow. I deeply appreciate the support, interest, and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, and colleagues along the way. I will chronicle my experiences on NOAA Ship Oregon II while also capturing how the scientific research may translate to the elementary school classroom. Please share your questions and comments in the comments section below, and I will do my best to reply from sea. My students sent me off with many thoughtful questions to address, and I’ll share the answers in subsequent posts.
Did You Know?
Pelagic fish have bodies designed for long-distance swimming. With their long pectoral fins, the blue shark (Prionace glauca) is highly migratory, traveling great distances across oceans.
For a simplified introduction to how scientists study sharks, I recommend the picture book How to Spy on a Shark written by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrated by Francisca Marquez. This read-aloud science book portrays the process of catching, tagging, and releasing mako sharks. The book includes shark facts as well as an introduction to tagging and tracking technology. For more information on how scientists use underwater robots such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to study sharks: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/18whitesharkcafe/welcome.html