Kristy Weaver: Ms. Weaver Goes to Sea

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 – 31, 2012

Hello from Hillside, New Jersey! First, for any out-of-state readers, allow me to say that despite what you may have seen on “reality” television about this beautiful state, we do not all tease our hair and have VIP memberships to tanning salons.  (Okay, so I may tease it a little, but only for special occasions!  Yes, this is my attempt at humor; bear with me.)  All kidding aside,  thank you for visiting.  I am excited to tell you about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program!

Perhaps I should introduce myself before I start making corny jokes.  I am Kristy Weaver and I am happy to say I have been a first grade teacher here at The A. P. Morris Early Childhood Center for the past 12 years.  Our building is home to every pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade classroom in the district, and we  are currently a community of 668 students.

Hillside is part of the Partnership for Systemic Change which is a collaboration between the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) and six other urban or semi-urban school districts.  Through this partnership I have been a part of the Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction, which is an intensive staff development series that takes place over the course of three years.  I have also been a Peer Teacher Workshop facilitator and have had the opportunity to discuss effective science instruction at length with my fellow science teachers and professionals from MISE and partner districts.

Here is a little video trailer my class helped make to tell everyone about my trip.  See if you can spot the cameo appearance from our beloved class pet, Jerry.  My students had the responsibility of casting him in this role and are all super excited that Jerry will now be “famous.”

The purpose of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is to provide teachers with real life experiences with scientific research and for us to then share that knowledge with the community upon our return.  This will strengthen my own content knowledge and expose our students to scientific research and science careers while increasing environmental awareness.  I am passionate about the pedagogy behind effective science instruction and while I hope that this experience will be shared with many classes, it will definitely be utilized to its fullest potential in my district.  This opportunity already inspired an impromptu math lesson when I showed my class my ship,  the R/V Savannah.  In order to grasp how big the 92 foot vessel is, we used 60 inch measuring tapes and counted by fives until we got to 90 feet.  Then we estimated two feet to help us get a sense of the size of the R/V Savannah.

This is my class, 92 feet down the hall! Wow! The R/V Savannah is larger than we thought!

I love being a teacher, and it is definitely where my passion lies.   However,  when I was a child I never  felt that being a scientist was an option for me because I didn’t know where to begin.  I had an innate curiosity about the water, but didn’t know that I could have built a career around it.   It’s my job to make sure that my students are afforded every opportunity, know that their dreams are within their reach,  and feel as if the world is at their fingertips- because it is!

How Did I Hear About Teacher at Sea?

Two years ago I attended the National Science Teachers Association Convention in Philadelphia, PA.  One of the booths at the exhibition center was for NOAA‘s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program.  It was fascinating to talk with teachers who had gone out to sea with NOAA in the past, and I immediately knew it was something I would pursue.  My whole life I had lived vicariously through scientists on various nature shows, and I was thrilled to learn that I even had the possibility to experience something like this first hand.

What the Research Says

So how is this going to help first graders?  In 2011 Microsoft Corp. commissioned two national surveys with Harris Interactive for parent and student opinions on how to motivate the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals.

For most, the decision to study STEM started before college.

  • Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier.
  • More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM.

This gives me, a first grade teacher, the opportunity to plant the seed early and expose children to STEM careers before they even reach the second grade.  If I can motivate just one child with this experience, or prove to them that they too should chase their dreams, then any amount of seasickness will be worthwhile.

Speaking of Motivation…Here is Mine:

Barnegat Lighthouse
“Old Barney”
Long Beach Island, NJ
Photo by Captain Al Kuebler

I have always been fascinated by the ocean and how something could be equally tranquil and ferocious.  As a child I never “sat still” and my boundless energy had me bouncing from one activity to the next with less than a heart beat in-between.  Yet, even as early as three years old, I can remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap in Long Beach Island and just staring out at the water for what seemed like hours.  In retrospect it may have only been 15 minutes, but regardless, just looking at the ocean had me calm, captivated, and thoroughly entertained in the silence of my own thoughts.

Feeding Sea Turtles at the Camden Aquarium

When I was young I always loved the underwater pieces in my parents’ National Geographic magazines, but it never crossed my mind that I could someday be a diver.  When I grew up a little I decided that it was something I would definitely do “someday.”  I finally realized that someday never comes unless you make your “someday” today.  I became a certified diver three years ago, and up until this point, it is one of the best things I have ever done.  As an adult, I have always watched nature shows, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would someday have the opportunity to experience something like Teacher at Sea.  I think this helps send an important message to my students: You should always  go out and experience everything you want in life.  I did a shipwreck dive to 109 feet, have fed sea turtles, swam with sharks, flew a helicopter, , and have been on a trapeze in two different countries.  Yet somehow, I have a feeling that all of these things will pale in comparison to the adventure I am about to have.

Me at the Saltwater Marsh in Stone Harbor, NJ
Photo by Myron Weaver- Hi Dad 🙂

So What’s Next?

I am getting ready to head out to sea and my students and I are so excited.  The next time I write I will most likely be somewhere near Savannah, GA where I will be setting sail on the R/V Savannah for an 8 day reef fish survey.  While the first grade students are my target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, I encourage people of all ages to follow me along my journey.  I hope that everyone will be able to get something out of it, and that secondary teachers will be able to use this experience as a starting point for some of their lessons as well.

Please feel free to post your comments or questions, and I will do my best to bring back the information you are most curious about!

Marian Wagner: Out at Sea, August 16, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge (the bridge is the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
E winds 15-20 knots
(1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth at 4:30pm was 17.4 meters (getting deeper by about1 meter per mile out)
Seas 3-4 feet (measure of the height of the back of the waves)

Science and Technology Log

Marian's on deck, ready to work

The Research Vessel Savannah departed around 1:00pm from its port at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 25 minutes outside Savannah, Georgia.  There are 9 members of a science team including me, and 6 crew members, for a total of 15 people onboard.  In the morning, we loaded the research equipment and supplies (8 traps, ice bins, bait, buckets, research cameras that we mount on the traps, water, lots of sunscreen, etc.).  Richard Huguley, ship engineer, led many of us on a tour of the engine room before it was roaring and heated up. A few fascinating facts about the engine room are below!

Richard tours us through the engine room before it's too hot!

We set out of port on the Skidaway River, to the Wilmington River, and out to Wassaw Sound, an estuary where fresh water meets its fate, the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the boat was beginning to rock from the rougher seas of the open ocean, Michael Richter, the first mate and safety officer of the ship, called a safety meeting, which included what to do in case of emergencies such as a fire onboard, man overboard, abandon ship, as well as general safety rules to keep us safe on a daily basis (e.g. how to open doors so you don’t break a finger, gear to wear during work on the deck).  Someone had to model how to get into the “Gumby suit”, a survival wetsuit that will protect from hypothermia, jellies, and sharks should we have to abandon ship immediately.  Well of course I had to be the one to try out the Gumby suit!

In my survival suit, the "Gumby suit"

Finally, we were told a muster drill would occur soon.  Later on, just as I was exiting the head (toilet), the general alarm sounded and a “man overboard” drill was conducted.  See below to learn how to respond to a man overboard emergency.

After the safety demonstration, discussion, and modeling of Gumby suit, our chief scientist, Warren Mitchell, reinforced the meaning of the safety talk by saying, “Safety is most important. Our scientific data is not worth compromising our safety for.”

The focus of this NOAA Fisheries cruise is to survey the population of commercially-important species to inform stock assessments.  Christina Schobernd explained the mission another way: “We study how many fish there are, where they are, and get information so we can tell fisheries how many fish to catch so that the fish populations are sustained (or, so that they don’t run out of fish).”  We will be taking samples of fish that swim into our traps, observing and recording their abundance (how many) and location.  Some of the fish will be taken into the lab for further study. It is critically important to monitor the populations of these fish to avoid over-fishing of these waters.

Each day out at sea starting 8/17 to 8/25, we will drop 6 traps per round of sampling, and as we process the fish we catch, we’ll drop another round. We do this for a total of 4 rounds per day, or a total of 24 samples per day, if all goes as planned. I am working the noon-midnight shift with a team of three other scientists: David Berrane, Katie Rowe, and Stephen Long.

Personal Log

I love the life of living in a boat!  Everything is compact, space is limited, and efficiency is the key.  The ship is actually far more outfitted than I expected: with a light and power plug at my bedside, air conditioning in my stateroom, running (not pumping) water in the head, a state-of-the-art-for-boats kitchen with walk-in fridge and hooded stove!

Moving in to my stateroom

It took us many hours to travel to where we were to begin dropping the traps so, besides preparations, we did not have a lot of work to do the first day.  This was advantageous to give me a chance to transition into life at sea, especially with the ship rocking in a  “wash-machine” like motion, I spent the first afternoon and evening getting sick, or as we like to say out here at sea, more elegantly: “Getting my sea legs”.  Read more below about why seasickness is so common.  Although it is very unpleasant to get seasick, it was comforting to know many of us were in the same boat.  Many of those who travel at sea on a frequent basis were sick last night too.

This morning on our second day out, I am feeling fully recovered from seasickness, and I have spent the morning eating delicious banana pecan waffles and enjoying conversations with fellow scientists and crew.  The sea is very calm this morning too so that helps.  In less than an hour from now, I’ll be on my first 12-hour shift!  I am learning so much from this experience and am embracing every moment!

Some of the scientists and crew I am working with!

Fun facts about the engine room

Fact #1: We use laser light to detect temperatures of instruments in the engine room to make sure they are not overheating and all running smoothly.

Fact #2: How can we keep the water that runs our air-conditioning cool? To run the ship’s air conditioners, it takes 1.5 gallons of fresh water per minute.  With 25 air-conditioning units on board, that is a lot of water!  With a limited amount of weight and space available on ship, we couldn’t possibly keep enough new fresh water to ensure we have cool water entering the system.  So how do we do it?  We have a closed system, so the same water cycles through over and over again, and we use a heat exchanger mechanism to keep it cool as it starts a new cycle. What could we use that is cool that we have an unlimited supply of?   Salt water!  The heated fresh water runs in the bottom of the heat exchanger machine, and comes out the top. Cool salt water runs in a countercurrent direction: in the top and out the bottom.  As the cool salt water passes by the heated fresh water, the heat transfers from the fresh water to the salt water, cooling the fresh water, heating the salt water before it is disposed of back into the ocean. Because the salt water is so abundant, it can run in an open system, where it is continuously fed anew into the pipes as it is continuously running out of pipes at the other end.

How to respond to a man overboard emergency

If the person was witnessed going overboard, the witness should:

  1. Call out for assistance and throw a life ring buoy into the water (best if it has a strobe light). Pass the word to the Bridge by any means possible.
  2. Wait about one minute and throw a second life ring buoy into the water to create a visual range to aid in the search effort.
  3. Keep the victim under surveillance if at all possible, but do not delay passing the word to the Bridge.

Unwitnessed Man Overboard

Until proven otherwise, when a crewmember is unaccounted for, it will be presumed that the individual has been lost overboard.  The time of the casualty will be unknown.  The ship’s navigation record will be crucial for search planning, as will the hourly weather observations entered into the Weather Log.

Why seasickness is so common

Most people feel some level of illness or discomfort when they first go to sea. Seasickness is a result of a conflict in the inner ear (where the human balance mechanism resides) caused by the erratic motion of the ship through water.  Inside the cabin of a rocking boat, for example, the inner ear detects changes in linear and angular acceleration as the body moves with the boat. But since the cabin moves with the passenger, the eyes register a relatively stable scene. Agitated by this perceptual incongruity, the brain responds with a cascade of stress-related hormones that can ultimately lead to nausea and vomiting. Its effect can be magnified by strong smells (like diesel fumes or fish). It usually occurs in the first 12-24 hours after sailing, and dissipates when the body becomes acclimated to the ship’s motion. Rarely does anyone stay ill beyond the first couple days at sea, regardless of sea state.  Don’t be embarrassed or discouraged!  If you get sick, chances are that others are sick too!  No one—fishermen, ship’s officers, scientists—is immune to seasickness.

Tips of the day:

Tip 1: Dehydration comes quick. Drink lots of water.

Tip 2: Give one hand for the boat. (As I walk up and down the stairs, I always have a hand on the rail.)