NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
April 22 – May 5, 2023
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 16, 2023
Three Years In the Making
As I am writing this, I find it hard to believe that over three years have passed since I was first selected to start my journey as a Teacher at Sea (TAS) with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I am so grateful to continue to be a part of this amazing opportunity. In just a few days I will be on my way to join world-renowned scientists and to meet the crew of the ship.
I will be participating, April 22-May 5, 2023, in a Reef Fish Survey on the Gulf of Mexico on NOAA Ship Pisces. Here is the link to learn more about the ship I will call home for 14 days. The goal of this survey is to deploy baited cameras to gain video that allows us to count/measure the fish we see, categorize habitats, and ultimately provide information on overall fish populations. The measurement of water quality will be checked for environmental DNA analysis, which can provide information on what fish have been in the area. Another goal is to do seafloor mapping so that we can find new habitats worth sampling and provide higher quality maps. I will embark at the port in Galveston, Texas and disembarkation will take place in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
I am excited-nervous and the anticipation is at its highest right now. A part of me still has some disbelief that this is FINALLY going to happen. I am beyond ready and can’t wait to share this experience with my family, friends, and students.
Welcome to my Teacher at Sea Blog. My name is Julie Hayes and I am from Macon, Missouri. Macon is a small rural farming community in Northeast Missouri. I currently teach life science, ecology, and STEM at Macon R-1 Middle School, but I have taught grades 6-12 covering many science subjects. I would consider myself a life-long learner and am excited to see first- hand the data collection on this mission and how the use of technology has helped the scientists learn more about the ocean and ecosystems themselves.
I have been married for 24 years and have two grown kids. My son graduated last year with a degree in nuclear medicine and married his high school sweetheart. My daughter will soon be finishing up her first year of college. I am excited to share my experiences with my students. I was influenced by my science teacher growing up who allowed us to do hands on learning and this really peaked my interest to persuade young students to love all facets of science, too. I am excited to be taking this journey along with my students.
Why did I apply to NOAA Teacher at Sea?
Wow! Do I ever get asked this a lot from this midwestern town? Several people I know that have never ventured out further than the neighboring states of Iowa and Illinois, ask me, “why in the world I would want to go out into the ocean with a bunch of strangers and do a bunch of high tech science stuff that none of us have ever heard of?” Even my own children think I am crazy! I tell them it is exactly what I have dreamed of doing my whole life.
Growing up on a farm in a super small town, surrounded by nothing but cornfields and cows, created a sense of wanting to go out and see the world. My family cultivated most of our own vegetables and raised or harvested our own meat. Because of this, I was taught the importance of sustainability. I have always been drawn to nature (probably because it was all around me), but really became fond of all things water. I grew up swimming and observing all of the animals in rivers, creeks, ponds, and lakes. I spent countless hours trying to catch tadpoles, fish, frogs, and turtles just to put them back again. I developed an instant fascination with the ocean at a young age when I came across the scientific expeditions of Jacques Cousteau, that just happen to be on one of the 3 television channels that we could actually get.
I spent many years thinking I was going to go into marine biology, but due to being 1400 miles away from my college of choice for that, my plans took another turn. In fact, if any of my students still to this day ask me if I could be anything other than a teacher what would it be, I have always said a marine biologist. Because of my love for the ocean and the desire to continue to grow and learn more to influence my students, I started researching teacher opportunities over ten years ago.
That is when I found the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea Program. I knew that my plans of applying were several years away, because I wanted to wait until my kids were older. In 2019, I took the leap of faith and filled out the application and got the amazing news that I was chosen for the 2020 season. When the COVID pandemic hit, everything came to a stand still preventing me from going.
I currently teach over 100 middle school students. I want to encourage them and spark an interest to have a passion for science like I do. By having the opportunity to teach in this rural community, I would consider myself extremely lucky. I have many real-world examples students can relate to right at my fingertips. I put an emphasis on my students being able to relate to the environment around them. One way I do this is by using examples they come across in their everyday lives, especially discussing farming sustainability and ecological topics like symbiosis and food webs. Several educational specimens I bring into the classroom come from my own pond or land that I live on. I love encouraging them to just go outside and look around, including those students that tend to stay indoors more.
We are lucky to have a state park in our little town. When we discuss the importance of conservation, they can see first hand the effects of doing so and why it is so important. Since we are landlocked and far from the ocean, I try to bring the ocean to them. I use symbiotic relationships with ocean ecosystems as examples, and you can find many ocean organisms displayed throughout my classroom. Part of the application process to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, was to include an original lesson plan. I wanted to create a lesson teaching the students that our practices here, whether it be in farming or the burning of fossil fuels, impact the oceans ecosystems. We discuss how our farming practices in the Midwest can filter through the watershed and end up in the Mighty Mississippi River that meets the Gulf of Mexico. Making them aware of the things we do in our own community, can still have an impact on the oceans ecosystems.
My hopes are that from this learning experience myself, I will become more educated on key topics from ocean careers, use of technology, and practices that will influence my students. Students in my class are often problem solving for solutions, collecting data, and then analyzing that data to come up with their answers. This opportunity involves all of these, in which I can’t wait to share with them.
Students and co-workers are excited to hear about my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. Students wrote down questions they were curious to ask about the ship, mission, scientist, and crew. They also wrote me personal encouragement letters to take along with me while I am out to sea. I can’t wait to read them while I am away! My hopes are to maintain contact with the students while I am at sea, and plan to spend a few days a week checking in on them. I will miss all of them, but know that this experience will be well worth it.