Bhavna Rawal: Teacher from Houston, Texas to collect oceanographic data in South Florida! August 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Very Soon to be board the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey/ South Florida Program
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 6, 2012

Introductory Log

Greetings from Houston, TX! I have been a science teacher in Northbrook High School for the last six years and I am going to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Department Chair at the Energized for the STEM academy starting this year. Northbrook High School is in an urban area in west Houston. The school has 1956 students, with 82% Hispanic, 8% black, 7% white, and 3% Asian. Over 80% of the students are in the Free Lunch Program. There are 140 teachers in our school.

I have worked as a physics, STEM and environmental teacher at Northbrook for six years. I am in a curriculum committee and district improvement team. I help with the professional development of the other teachers in our district. I have coached, co-coached and sponsored numerous after-school activities including the green club, and the MIT InvenTeam club. I also organize a community open house every year. As a school science teacher leader, my students’ teams and teachers’ team have done several STEM projects in energy, environmental and oceanic science.

Energy Projects: I used to teach the energy unit by helping students to build electricity circuits in a house designed and made from a foam board for my students to learn the whole unit. But my love of saving energy and the environment inspired me to make the green club students to build the alternative energy house, write and receive the BP energy grant and help my students to receive the National Energy Education Development award in 2008. I also like to travel and do research and bring my experiences back to my classroom. I’ve traveled all over Europe to explore alternative energy and mass transit in 2009 as a Fund for Teachers’ fellow. After coming back from Europe, my student’s team built the future Houston Energy City and participated in city-wide competitions. I love to organize open houses every year in my school and showcase our projects to our teachers, staff, administrators and community. I have helped them perform several energy activities such as the energy audit, energy challenge, and solar cars, wind turbines, recycling program, share a car program, etc. under USDA grant that I have received for three consecutive years.  Under this grant, I have collaborated with my nearest community college and university programs to take students to various field trips and helped students to receive scholarships. My students also received second place in the energy competition in our district schools.

Alternative energy house project
Green Club students

One of my best projects is the invention project called the energy efficient cooling blanket sponsored by the Lemelson MIT program.  We zeroed in on the idea of an “energy efficient cooling blanket”. It was simple, but highly challenging, and would require real technical breakthroughs to actually succeed. I inspired and recruited my students to initiate this project. After we submitted the final proposal, our project was one of 14 finalists selected nationwide to receive the grant. Since the award, I assembled and inspired a volunteer team of students to implement this project. We gelled as a team and worked hard. Our prototype took shape! It was fun and exciting to watch, participate, and guide. I resolved logistical issues with the team, participated in brainstorming, and provided technical guidance and access to experts. In June 2011, our team showcased a prototype of our invention in EurekaFest at MIT!

NHS Lemelson-MIT IntevenTeam

Environmental projects and activities: The science class and green club have done water quality projects with EPA. As an Eye in the sky II ambassador I was fortunate to encourage students to learn and use advanced technology applications to solve community service projects such as Houston’s air pollution for the last ten years using Spatial Technology. With my guidance, my students selected, designed and developed community projects. I work hard to provide my students with the resources that will help them successfully complete their community projects and accomplish their own personal goals.

I was selected in a Toyota International teacher program to Costa Rica in 2011. During my trip, I analyzed and compared plants and animals from cloud forest, rainforest and dry Pacific forests in Costa Rica. I documented my observations using pictures, videos, and artifacts. I brought back information packets, photos, handouts, videos and personal experiences that were shared with my students, fellow teachers, administration and community. I collaborated with my Toyota program cohort group/alumni. I built strong relationships with the people I came in contact with in Costa Rica so that I could bring their first-person voices into my classroom. Students worked on a project called Biodiversity analysis and comparison within Clear Creek, Caney Creek and Mill Creek bayou. The rationale behind this project is to instruct students in field methodologies and introduce students to the concepts of species biodiversity and the biodiversity of interactions. The objectives of this project are: Students will be able to quantitatively assess and compare biodiversity of three distinct plant and animal communities within the three bayous and students will be able to distinguish the concepts of biodiversity of species and biodiversity of tropic interactions. In preparation, my students review the project work that I have performed in Costa Rica, analyze the data, and present comparative study with conclusions. When they are prepped, the students undertake the project in their chosen location and calculate biodiversity of each community in terms of species/area.

Biodiversity study with the Toyota Teachers International group

Recently I have participated in the 2012 Japan-U.S. teacher exchange program for education for sustainable development (ESD). This program was from the Japan Fulbright fund. What I learned during this program was to enrich and expand my school program. I have explored ESD resources and visited to ESD-focused schools. I experienced the Japanese culture and have visited cultural sites. I heard different viewpoints of educators from Japan and the U.S. by attending a joint conference between the Japanese and U.S. teachers. Since it is a collaborative project, it offers students the opportunity to increase their international awareness of ESD and to expand communication beyond our community. This participation allowed me to connect lessons learned from Europe, Central America, the United States, and Japan for educational experiences for students to help them envision the future through a global perspective.

U.S.-Japan ESD group

This summer, I was also selected by Fund for Teacher fellowship which is a self-designed learning odyssey to research the wealth of biodiversity pervasive in Costa Rica’s various biomes to create a unit of study that helps students grasp abstract concepts associated with sustainability and understand the implications of human activity on the environment. After pursuing scientific data, participating in seminars, volunteering with community organizations and observing best practices, I will return to my classrooms as leading learners to inspire my students and school communities.

Soil testing in Corcovado national park, Costa Rica

I am very excited to be a part of this cruise (WS1212), R/V Walton Smith scientific team which is from NOAA and the University of Miami.  I will learn, starting from collecting water samples to various scientific testing, documentation, regular routines and communication among team members and professional societies.

Steven Frantz: Training at Sea, July 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Tagging Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the east coast of  Florida
Date: July 29, 2012



In my last blog I mentioned we would be at sea three days to get to where we will begin the longline survey. I thought I would take a little time to share some of the training before we ever start a longline survey. Everybody pitches in to make sure we have a safe, successful journey.

First we learned the different parts to the longline. The line starts with a high-flier buoy and a weight. Gangions (also known as a branch line or leader) are snapped to the line. Another weight is placed midway, with more gangions, then finally another high-flier buoy at the end. There are 100 gangions used for the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey. While there are several variations when using longline gear, the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey has used this standardized set-up in order to minimize variables.  By using the same gear year after year they are able to compare fish catch data, minimizing any bias attributed to changing gear that may fish differently.

This just isn’t your average fishing trip! The longline itself is one nautical mile long! How long is this on land? In addition, each end is also calculated into the total length. This will vary depending on how deep the ocean floor is where we are fishing. The longline is left for one hour then retrieved.

Longline Diagram
Longline Diagram, courtesy Dr. Trey Driggers

Before we begin, everything needs to be ready and in place. Each gangion has to be placed in a barrel so they do not get tangled taking them out. A tangled bunch of gangions is a big problem. First, the AK snap of the gangion goes into the bucket. Next, let the line go into the bucket. Finally, place the hook in the notch in the bucket, making sure it points in toward the bucket. We certainly do not want anyone passing by caught by a hook.

From top to bottom: clips, hooks, AK snaps 
Hooks on Bucket
How to place gangions in the bucket
Numbered Tags
Numbered Tags

There are many data scientists use in their research. We need to make sure we collect accurate data; consistent with the 18 years this study has been going on. First we learned how to measure the length (in millimeters) of a shark. We used an Atlantic Mackerel as a measurement example. There are three length measurements to be taken: Total Length (from tip or nose to tip of tail), Fork Length (from tip of nose to notch in tail), and Standard Length (from tip of nose to where body ends and tail begins). The shark is placed on a two meter long measuring board. If the shark is longer than two meters, a measuring tape is used to measure length. The three lengths are recorded.

measuring board
Measuring Board

In addition to the three length measurements, we must also identify the species of shark, measure weight, condition when caught, sex, maturity (for males), hook number, and any tag information if the shark had been tagged before. For some species, if the shark isn’t tagged, we will tag it. We also need to record which vessel we are on, which survey, which station, and the date. Data is also being collected on many aspects of the water. Other samples may be taken that will determine the age of the shark (vertebrae).

Data Sheet
Data Sheet

The last thing we learned was how to bait a hook. These hooks are big! Atlantic Mackerel are used for bait. We must be careful to double hook the bait or it will fall off.

Cutting Bait
Cutting Bait
Baited Hooks
Baited Hooks

There you have it. Tomorrow I will begin working the longline actually fishing for sharks!

After three days in the Gulf of Mexico we see land! We passed near enough to be able to see the coastline of Miami. It all seems so peaceful here aboard the Oregon II when looking out into what I know is the hustle and bustle of Miami, Florida.


Elizabeth Bullock: Introduction, December 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011


Hello! My name is Elizabeth (Liz) Bullock and I work for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program (TAS).  Before I worked at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  I was in graduate school at Clark University in Worcester, MA studying Environmental Science and Policy.  As my final project, I created an environmental curriculum for the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI).  Through this experience, I realized how much I love both science and educating others about the importance of the natural world.

I have been invited to take part in a research cruise on the R/V Walton Smith.  I will be participating in the Bimonthly Regional Survey / South Florida Program Cruise.  The researchers on this survey are  from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanography and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) which is located in Miami, FL.

What will we be studying?  The scientists on this survey are very interested in knowing about the strength and health of the ecosystem.  They can judge how strong it is by looking at various indicators such as water clarity, salinity, and temperature.  They can also record information about the phytoplankton and zooplankton that live in the water.

Question for students: Why do you think it is important to learn about the phytoplankton and zooplankton?  What can they tell us about the ecosystem?  Please leave a reply with your answers below by clicking on “Comments.”

Here is a map of the route the R/V Walton Smith will be taking.

Research Map
The R/V Walton Smith will be leaving Miami, FL and traveling around the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico.

I am so excited and I hope you will follow along with me on this journey of a lifetime!

Stephen Bunker: Introduction, 11 October 2011

Photo of Stephen Bunker
NOAA Teacher at Sea Stephen Bunker

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

The time is quickly approaching for me to start on my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. Before I head off I should tell a little about myself. I’m a 3rd grade teacher at Northridge Elementary in Orem, Utah. In my previous 18 years of teaching, I’ve taught students ranging from kindergarten through 6th grade. Of all the subjects I teach, I think science is the most fun.

I’ve participated in many professional development opportunities, but I think this will be the most unique. Living at sea on a NOAA ship doing research with scientists and then sharing what I experience and learn with others will be  loads of fun.

In addition, I’ll be at sea when my students are in school. So, “Hello class!” I’m hoping they follow this blog. If you have a question for me, please post a comment below. I’ll make sure to respond either from ship or when I return.

RV Walton Smith
This will be my home for 5 days.

I’ll be aboard the R/V Walton Smith for a week. The RV Walton Smith is based in Miami, Florida and we will be doing a Hydrographic Survey. That’s science speak for measuring and collecting data about ocean features such as temperature, water clarity, microscopic plant and animal life and currents and tides. The scientists are interested in learning how the Deepwater Horizon oil platform accident is affecting the plant and animal life in the Florida Keys.

It takes a lot of planning to get ready for this type of voyage. Our lead scientist has made a map of the area where we will be.

A map showing where we will do our research.

Check back, because the next time you’ll hear from me will be from the Florida Keys.