Sue Zupko, Getting Ready: Is it a Go? September 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
(soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg I
Geographical area of cruise:  Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 4, 2014

Personal Log

I am a teacher of the Gifted and Talented at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, AL.  I am so very humbled by the opportunity I have been given to conduct research aboard the Henry B. Bigelow with NOAA scientists.  This is my second NOAA cruise.  I studied deep-water corals aboard the Pisces in 2011 and thought it was my only chance to do something like that.  They told me if I did all my homework, and did all my projects well, that good things would come my way.  I say that to my students and this is an example of why one should do one’s homework and try hard.   You’d better believe that I did my best.  I love to learn so a NOAA research cruise and projects with my students are a perfect fit.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope. Diego in the background.

Me on the Pisces, It was cold in this lab.

In preparing for my first entry I asked my students for advice on what to include.  They insisted that I include a “shout out” to them and tell how fabulous our school is.

Here are a few highlights.  Weatherly has been recycling aluminum cans to help pay for our outdoor classroom since 1998 when I helped write a grant to get a trailer to collect cans and take them to the recycling center.  We have made thousands of dollars through the years and have an Alabama Certified Outdoor Classroom now.  Students, parents, faculty, and community volunteers help with it and enjoy learning there.  We have raised Monarch butterfly larvae, viewed Ladybug larvae under a microscope from the Tulip Poplar tree, grown melons, touched plants in the sensory garden, and myriad other activities.

We piloted a recycling program for our district.  Every classroom has a bin to collect clean paper and plastic.  It is collected weekly and tons of items have been recycled as a result.

We participate in a plastic bottle cap recycling program.  This is an annual contest city-wide and Weatherly counts and recycles thousands of caps to be made into paint buckets rather than taking up room in the landfill.  For many years we recycled phone books and were one of the top three recyclers.

In addition to helping the environment, we are a No Place for Hate school.  We also study about the ocean.  A lot.  I am the faculty advisor for our morning announcements.  Our quotes of the week this year are about the ocean and we highlight an ocean literacy principle  every day.  We now know that marine biologist Sylvia Earle pointed out that “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea.”

On my upcoming voyage with NOAA, I will launch two drifters.  In order to be selected for this drifter project, a teacher must have an international partner to share lessons with to learn about the ocean.  After an extensive search I found the perfect match.  Sarah Hills at the TED Istanbul College teaches English.  Her students will be studying map reading starting in September when they return to school.  We have already decided that our students will plot the course of the drifters and hypothesize where they will be at specific times based on the ocean currents and winds which will carry them.

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These drifters measure ocean salinity, surface water temperature, velocities (speeds) of the current, and air pressure and are important for understanding more about our weather and the ocean.  I can’t wait to get our students communicating.  Weatherly’s school theme is “A Village of Learners and Leaders.”  Outside my classroom on the bulletin board are some wonderful items from Turkey provided by Mrs. Hills and it says, “A Global Village of Learners and Leaders.”  In preparation for tracking our drifters, we are currently tracking former hurricanes and researching how the ocean changes our planet.  On their exit ticket today, my 5th graders commented that they liked tracking the hurricanes since they will use the same technique to track my journey and the drifters.

I am so excited.  I have spoken with the Chief Scientist, John Galbraith, and understand that I will be working side-by-side with scientists on this fisheries cruise.  We will drop a trawl net behind our 209 foot long ship and catch marine creatures.  Our job will be to sort the fish (and other marine animals) and learn more about them using measurements and other means such as dissection.  Computers play a role in our study and my first assignment will be to collect data in the computer.  Wonder what program I will use, and is it similar to Excel which we use a lot?

I asked my fourth graders if they thought I might see a whale.  They all responded yes in that group.  What do you think?

Teachers at Sea need to be flexible, have fortitude, and follow orders.  Let me explain.  Right now I am waiting to see if my ship will even sail.  The engineers have found a problem and are working to make the ship seaworthy for our voyage.  Already our cruise date has changed twice.  I must be flexible and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.  There are always some changes, it seems, when dealing with the ocean.  On my last cruise a tropical depression (storm) formed over us and we couldn’t begin our research for an extra day.

Sailing is not for the faint of heart.  I must be able to work long hours in uncomfortable conditions (they say this is having fortitude).  They do supply my “foul weather” gear.  Wonder if I will smell like fish at the end of my shift.

One handy piece of equipment I will take is ear plugs.  The engines are loud and that helps when it is time to sleep.  My shift will be either from midnight to noon or noon to midnight.  That’s a long time to work.  If we have a good catch, we will be working a lot.  That is good for weight loss, as long as I don’t overdo with the fabulous food prepared by the stewards (cooks) in the galley (kitchen).

I was in the U.S. Army years ago and learned to follow orders, the third of the 3Fs.  There are NOAA officers whose orders I must follow for my safety and the safety of the other scientists.  I also must follow the orders of the NOAA Teacher at Sea directors and my chief scientist.  Add to that my principal and superintendent in my district.  That’s a lot of bosses giving orders.

Lastly, my students requested that I tell everyone our school motto.  “We are Weatherly Heights and we…GO THE EXTRA MILE.”  Well, pretty soon I can say, “We are the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow and we…GO THE EXTRA NAUTICAL MILE.”  Can’t wait to see what treasures we will uncover in the ocean.