My entire teaching career has been spent seeking ways to inspire my students to be happy, caring, thoughtful, and courageous stewards of the earth. It is so easy for someone to go through their day to day life without thinking about the impact that their actions have on the ocean, and the organisms that inhabit its waters. For as long as I can remember my inspiration has come from Robert Wyland, a renowned marine artist that focuses on teaching awareness about environmental conservation. Until I completed my Teacher at Sea experience, I had no idea that Robert Wyland has partnered with NOAA in outreach programs to actively engage in teaching students about the importance of marine life conservation. I am completely humbled knowing that as a Teacher at Sea Alumni, I have also now partnered with NOAA in creating opportunities for kids to become informed and aware of life beyond the classroom.
The ocean stirs the heart,
inspires the imagination and
brings eternal joy to the soul.
I love the ocean! I love the feeling of ‘not knowing’ when I look out over the water. There are so many unanswered questions about the systems, processes, and organisms that lie beneath the surface. I cannot express enough the gratitude that I have towards NOAA for choosing me to embark on an adventure that I will remember and share with others for the rest of my life. The Teacher at Sea experience has changed me. I am more patient with my students, and I have this unexplained excitement every day in the classroom. I have always been an upbeat teacher, but my passion for educating my students about the importance of scientific research has taken over. When I was aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, I could feel the desire from the NOAA scientists towards their work. It is amazing to be able to be a part of a team that gets to explore a territory on earth where most humans will never go. The ocean will always remain to be a mystery, and scientists will forever be challenged to explore, collect data, and draw conclusions about the existence of life offshore. Wyland once said, “the world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves….”. Knowing that I have been a part of exploring the ocean’s wilderness with NOAA scientists is something that I will cherish forever.
Each summer my co-teacher, Ashley Henderson, and I host a science camp called Ocean Adventure. This coming summer (2019) we will be adding a new camp called Shark Camp. Both camps will provide a unique way to educate the young ‘explorers’ in our community on the biological, chemical, and physical forces of the ocean, as well as human impact. Teacher at Sea has provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of the ocean, including SHARKS, and will help us create a more impactful experience for the youngsters that attend the camps. It is important to me to reach out to the children in my community to develop an early interest in science, and nurture that awareness as the students flow through the different grade levels.
Sea wave height: NA
Wind Speed: 7 Mph
Wind Direction: W
Air Temperature: 20 degrees C (68 degrees Fahrenheit)
Barometric Pressure: 29.81″ Steady
Sky: scattered clouds
And just like that, it’s over. I am back in Flagstaff and have finally stopped feeling the boat rocking while on solid ground. Students have been working on a shark project in my absence and we are finishing it up this week. My first day back was a day of show and tell. The students were excited and full of questions about my trip. As I presented to my students, I realized how much I learned and how much more I still want to know! Here are some pictures from Monday.
jaws of a blacktip shark
checking out the longline and gangions
blacknose jaws and sharpnose jaws
barb from a southern stingray
barb from southern stingray
red snapper otolith
As I reflect back on my adventure, I have many thoughts and wonder how the fourth and final leg is going. I think back to last year when I first learned I was selected to be on this adventure and how impossible it was to imagine that I was actually going to work with sharks. Then, as the date loomed closer, trying to best prepare for something that was a big unknown to me. And then I was at the dock looking at the Oregon II tied up for the weekend. I recall when I first reached the dock in the evening looking at the ship and thinking wow, pinch me, this is really happening. I remember being awed and out of my element those first few days just learning to navigate the ship. And then the first haul in! Now that was a rush as we pulled in not only small sharpnose sharks but larger sandbar sharks that needed to be cradled. It was unbelievable watching as the team worked and I was thrust into being a viable team member. After a week, it was a game I had to see if I could bait the hooks as fast as the veteran scientists. I automatically logged the fin clips and helped enter the data we had collected. Working on the ship became the new normal — knowing what to to do at each station’s deployment of the line and the haul back. I was feeling competent in my role. Even pulling in some sharks became routine…routine! Wow, had I come a long way. And then, just like that, I was on my last haul back and heading back into port.
Here are some of my favorite videos and photos from the adventure.
Below a time lapse of what a haul back at night looks like
Measuring a sandshark
And a video of my favorite shark- the great hammerhead being released out of the cradle.
And a baby hammy
So here I am, back in Flagstaff, reflecting back on my adventure. Did it really happen? I have pictures to prove it and stories I am sharing but it does seem like a lifetime ago that I was touching a shark and looking into the doe eyes of a ten foot hammerhead shark. The more I talk about what I have done, the more I realize how much I learned and how much more I still don’t know. The two weeks flew by but I am grateful for it. So for those of you out there reading this blog, make time for adventures, get out there and do it, follow your passion and immerse yourself. You might be surprised at what you can do!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Latitude: 42.2917° N (Back home again!)
Longitude: 85.5872° W
Wind Speed: 6 mph
Air Temperature: 65 F
Weather Observations: Rainy
Here I am, three weeks deep in a new school year, and it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was spotting whales while on marine mammal watch and laughing at dolphins that were jumping in our wake. I feel like telling my students, “I had a really weird dream this summer where I was a marine biologist and did all kinds of crazy science stuff.”
If it was a dream, it certainly was a good one! Well, except for the part when I was seasick. That was a bit more of a nightmare, but let’s not talk about that again. It all turned out okay, right?
I didn’t know what to expect when signing on with the Teacher at Sea program, and I’m amazed at how much I learned in such a short period of time. First of all, I learned a lot about marine science. I learned how to differentiate between different types of jellyfish, I learned what a pyrosome is and why they’re so intriguing, I learned that phytoplankton are way cooler than I thought they were, and I can now spot a hake in any mess of fish (and dissect them faster than almost anyone reading this).
I also learned a lot about ship life. I learned how to ride an exercise bike while also rocking side to side. I learned that Joao makes the best salsa known to mankind. I learned that everything – everything – needs to be secured or it’s going to roll around at night and annoy you to pieces. I even learned how to walk down a hallway in rocky seas without bumping into walls like a pinball.
Well, okay. I never really mastered that one. But I learned the other things!
Beyond the science and life aboard a ship, I met some of the coolest people. Julia, our chief scientist, was a great example of what good leadership looks like. She challenged us, looked out for each of us, and always cheered us on. I’m excited to take what I learned from her back to the classroom. Tracie, our Harmful Algal Bloom specialist, taught me that even the most “boring” things are fascinating when someone is truly passionate about them (“boring” is in quotes because I can’t call phytoplankton boring anymore. And zooplankton? Whoa. That stuff is crazy).
Lance taught me that people are always surprising – his innovative ways for dissecting fish were far from what I expected. Also, Tim owns alpacas. I didn’t see that one coming. It’s the surprising parts of people that make them so fun, and it’s probably why our team worked so well together on this voyage.
I can’t wait to bring all of this back to my classroom, specifically to my math class. My students have already been asking me lots of questions about my life at sea, and I’m excited to take them on my “virtual voyage.” This is going to be a unit in my eighth and ninth grade math classes where I show them different ways math was used aboard the ship. I’ll have pictures and accompanying story problems for the students to figure out. They’ll try to get the same calculations that the professionals did, and then we’ll compare data. For example, did you know that the NOAA Corps officers still use an old-fashioned compass and protractor to track our locations while at sea? They obviously have computerized methods as well, but the paper-and-pencil methods serve as a backup in case one was ever needed. My students will have fun using these on maps of my locations.
They’ll also get a chance to use some of the data the scientists took, and they’ll see if they draw the same conclusions the NOAA scientists did. A few of our team were measuring pyrosomes, so I’ll have my students look at some pyrosome data and see if they get the correct average size of the pyrosome sample we collected. We’ll discuss the implications of what would happen if scientists got their math wrong while processing data.
I am so excited to bring lots of real-life examples to my math classroom. As I always tell my students, “Math and science are married.” I hope that these math units will not only strengthen my students’ math skills, but will spark an interest in science as well.
This was an amazing opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so thankful to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing this for me and for teachers around the country. My students will certainly benefit, and I have already benefited personally in multiple ways. To any teachers reading this who are considering applying for this program – DO IT. You won’t regret it.
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.
Sailing in to Warm Springs Bay, AK
Abiquiu Lake and Cerro Perdernal, NM
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.
Carved raven from Argillite
Georgia’s O’Keeffe’s Perdernal
Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, me, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.
Me and two great friends on our frivolous outing
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.
Chart of mud volcano and fault
3D image of Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault
3D image of the mud volcano
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.