Allison Irwin: The Journey Begins, June 26, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7 – 25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Embarkation Port: Newport, Oregon

Cruise Start Date: 7 July 2019

Days at Sea: 19

Introduction

I’m actually afraid of the sea. The unspeakable power, the dark depths, the mysterious uncharted territory – the sea has always held curious minds captive. I want to be someone who faces the things that scare me. And for 19 days, on a relatively tiny ship, I will be doing just that.

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
Reuben Lasker Pulls Into the Navy Pier on 1 May 2014

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker is “one of the most technologically advanced fisheries vessels in the world” according to the Office of Marine & Aviation Operations.  In addition to studying fish and marine life populations, it is also equipped for acoustic data sampling and the gathering of oceanographic data. It can stay out to sea for up to 40 days at a time without needing to return for food or fuel replenishment. 

And yet, as I’m writing this, I can’t help but think about SS Edmund Fitzgerald and RMS Titanic. They were the most advanced ships of their time too. Of course, I’m just letting my imagination get carried away. People fear the things they don’t understand. And I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can on this cruise in order to understand not just how this incredible vessel operates, but also how the ocean and atmosphere impact my life on a daily basis.

I was lucky last year to stumble across a professional development opportunity funded through the American Meteorological Society. I took two graduate level courses since then – DataStreme Atmosphere and DataStreme Ocean. Upon finishing this program I’ll earn a graduate certificate from the California University of Pennsylvania and be able to apply my new understanding of earth science directly to my classroom instruction. Already I’ve been able to incorporate fascinating information about coral reefs, the Bermuda Triangle, map reading, and weather into lessons and activities this year.

Why does a Reading Specialist need all this professional development, you might ask? In science of all things? Because nobody reads about things they’re not interested in (unless they have to). Students need to have something to connect with, to care about, in order to learn. When was the last time I, as an adult, read something I didn’t care about? Probably years. 

Humans are curious by nature, and by incorporating new topics into our reading lessons over the past year, I’ve noticed that students really like learning about earth science. It’s like the mother who hides cauliflower in the lasagna – students are more motivated to read when they’re reading about something exciting and directly relevant to their lives. Thankfully, the more they read, the better they get at comprehending the nuances of the text. And then the less they need me.

A classroom

One of the most valuable aspects of this trip for me is that I’ll return with a new appreciation for earth science, current events as they relate to our food supply and environment, and marine life. I can use this experience to build exciting lessons for high school students who may use their connection to these lessons as a lifeline. The last ditch effort to find something exciting to learn before graduating with a lackluster memory of the doldrums of the high school classroom.

Teenagers are tough eggs to crack! But I like them. And I’m very grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me, and other teachers, opportunities like this to show our students that there are literally thousands of directions to take after high school in regard to career and quality of life. And that high school is one of the few places where they can build the foundational knowledge necessary to get them there – for free.  I want my students to pursue their passions. To get excited about learning! And the first step to doing that successfully is to expose them to as many post-secondary options and lessons about their world as we can in the short time that we spend with them. Thanks NOAA! I’m excited to start my journey.

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