NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 5 – 26, 2017
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey
Date: July 11, 2017
Wind: 6mph coming from the south
Visibility: ~62.44 miles (100.48km) (to Mount Taylor on the horizon) but a little hazy
Air temperature: 72°F (22°C) getting to 94°F (34°C) by the afternoon
Cloud: 0%, but hopefully thunderclouds will build later and we will have rain
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Latitude. It is a word I use regularly during the school year. In my 6th and 9th grade science classes, we review latitude as the angular distance north or south of the equator. We pull out maps, of New Mexico, of Antarctica, of our planet, and we explore. In January of this year, we sponsored two SOCCOM floats (https://soccom.princeton.edu/) and this upcoming school year, we will chart where Sundevil Sam and Sundevil Lion are, as they send data back from the Southern ocean, data that my classes can access online. Now, after my time on Fairweather, thanks to NOAA’s vast amount of resources, my students will be able to pull up the nautical charts of places I went (http://www.charts.noaa.gov/BookletChart/17408_BookletChart.pdf) and we can integrate even more mapping and bathymetry into our world. In the last five weeks I’ve gone from 35°N to ultimately as far north as 58° and back again, but in so many ways, my latitude has been much greater.
Latitude is also defined, in photography, as being the range of exposures photography paper can be given and still achieve a quality image. So, applying this definition, there is no doubt that my latitude professionally and personally has increased as a result of my experiences on Fairweather this summer. My exposure to hydrography, my exposure to new careers, my exposure to new places and my exposure to new people and new friends is significant, in some ways quantifiable, and in other ways immeasurable. As I sit here in my New Mexico home, preparing to teach a desert field ecology class for the University of New Mexico next week, I find that my brain after a while wanders off from reviewing the ecology of desert species, and I begin to wonder where Fairweather is on route to Nome. I wonder how the landscape has changed from the dense Sitka Spruce, hemlock and alder I got used to seeing from the ship in Southeast Alaska. As I fill my birdfeeders and watch the goldfinch flock, I wonder if the crew have seen more albatross species as they have gone north. As I spend a somewhat frivolous Sunday morning driving two hours north to play and cool down in Abiquiu Lake, near where the artist Georgia O’Keefe gained much inspiration, I am reminded of the Gulf of Alaska’s water temperatures, discovered on a wet day when bottom sampling west of Prince of Wales Island, and of the Argillite carvings produced by Haida artists not far from Ketchikan.
Latitude also refers to freedom in actions and choices. I feel fortunate to teach at the school that I do, as I have a lot of latitude when it comes to my curriculum and a lot of support in allowing me to apply for opportunities such as Teacher At Sea. This makes it very easy to incorporate the science of hydrography I have learned this summer into my existing curriculum. I have latitude in exposing students to my experiences, and hopefully as a result, expanding theirs. On the 21 days I sailed on Fairweather I was able to make time to review curricula Teachers At Sea have created in the past, and develop new hydrography lessons I hope many of us can use. I was able to directly ask Fairweather hydrographers for support, and thanks to Sam Candio, I have images of the mud volcano and Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault we surveyed, that I can use in the classroom next month. I am using data collected by Hollings scholar, Carly LaRoche, in the classroom -my 6th graders will analyze her maps and the data to see if there are correlations.
On the ship, after a few days, I also realized that I was now the student. I’ll admit that it was slightly humbling and when I got over the ‘I’m used to being in charge and doing’ feeling I relished the new position I found myself in. While I had anticipated learning a lot about the science of hydrography and what it takes to sail and run a large science vessel, I hadn’t thought about the indirect observations I would make, about myself as a student and the consequences of my experiences as a student to my classroom. I began to examine how I could tweak a lesson here and there to make it more applicable to my students experiences, and how even excellently explained concepts can be confusing initially, and repetition and re-introduction can be essential for some students. I watched myself be overwhelmed by acronyms in the beginning and get excited 18 days in to the leg when I could remember one without looking it up. I never did quite remember what each of the computer software programs were for, and marveled at my hydrographer colleagues as they navigated HYPAC, HYSWEEP, CARIS, SIS and Charlene (or Sharr-lene at it became affectionately known in honor of one of the NOAA Corps officers). I learned that I had a bit of a stumbling block when it came to learning what each program did, and it was a reminder to me that these stumbling blocks can be present for my students in the classroom setting too.
My degrees of latitude have changed significantly in the last two months since I found out, in the dusty remote gas station parking lot in southern Utah, that I would be going to be on a NOAA hydrography ship in Alaska. The longer I have been home, the more I have realized what an incredible opportunity I was given by NOAA Teacher at Sea. Life changing may sound ‘hokey’ but I think that is a good succinct summary. I now have a profound understanding of the time consuming and often hard work needed to create nautical charts. I have a new understanding of what it is like for the crew of Fairweather, and many other vessels, to spend weeks, and in their case, months, away from family and friends; I have a healthy respect and comparisons to make and share about the ecology and geology of Alaska. I have new friends and new ideas. And now, as a teacher, the real work begins in synthesizing this experience.
This weekend I spoke with my friend Jillian Worssam, a TAS alumna and incredible science teacher in Flagstaff, AZ, who has founded a program Scientists in the Classroom. Her work, ideas and community engagement are inspirational, and while I was on the ship, I shot her an email as I knew I wanted to make sure I did not lose ground, I did not want to lose momentum once I returned to ‘normal life’. As a teacher, things pile up as the school year progresses, and I am profoundly aware that it’s so easy, when things ‘get crazy’ to fall back on what’s been done before. While that is not always a bad thing, it is a constant challenge to integrating new experiences and new learning from professional development such as Teacher At Sea. As a teacher, I have also learned, that while my brain is good, when I ‘beg, borrow and steal’ other people’s’ knowledge and ideas, my classroom becomes stronger and my students’ degrees of latitude increase. My new NOAA contacts, both on the ships and on land, should have a heads up that this is only the beginning.