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Ask Judy OBrien what teachers should do with their summers, and shell tell you that they ought to be taking advantage of the incredible learning opportunities available to them.
OBrien knows firsthand.
The fifth-grade teacher at Patrick Hamilton Middle School in Dowagiac, Michigan, has spent the past few summers out to sea in the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Alaska. The expeditions were free, the learning experiences invaluable, and it was all possible because she was teacher.
I love the adventure, said OBrien (BA 72/ma 78) of the reasons shes set sail. But the main reason is that the world is so small and I want to bring those experiences back into the classroom and let my students know that there is a whole other world out there beyond little Dowagiac.
I also happen to have an insatiable desire for things that keep me excited about learning. Im the number one learner in the classroom, and I want to pass that on to the kids.
OBriens first ocean adventure was in 1998 when she applied and was accepted to a program run by the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She and a number of other teachers spent five weeks on shore and sailing throughout the North Atlantic.
OBrien worked as a member of the ships crew, and helped the scientific staff with oceanographic research by collecting samples, analyzing data and summarizing research results.
That experience led her to apply to the Teacher at Sea Program run by the National Oceanographic and Air Administration (NOAA). She was accepted and on August 8, 2000, she and the crew of the NOAA research vessel Miller Freeman embarked on a two-week journey through the western portion of the Gulf of Alaska.
The research study dealt with the scientific uncertainty regarding how commercial fishing affected the availability of walleye pollock, which are the main diet of Stellar sea lions. Stellar sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska have been declining in numbers. A primary concern of the scientists was to distinguish between changes due to fishing activity and those caused by environmental effects or natural variability.
The only teacher on board along with nine scientists, OBrien was up by 4 a.m. and worked until 4 p.m. Her job was to determine the pollocks gender, length, and to remove the otoliths (ear bone).
(The otoliths have rings and by counting them the fishs age can be determined.) Stomachs were also removed and bagged for further studies on the pollocks eating habits.
All the data were entered into a computer. It was painstaking work, and the scientists were exacting in the collection of data.
For OBrien, the Sea Education Association voyage and the 14 days on the Miller Freeman were remarkable experiences that have inspired her and her teaching. The impact in the classroom is tremendous. The kids are just as excited as I am. They want to hear about the experience, and see the videos and pictures I took. We go online to see what other creatures live in the sea and learn how we can save our oceans and our Great Lakes.
After her experience on the North Atlantic, OBrien took her students sailing on the Inland Seas Schoolship in Suttons Bay, Michigan. That gave her students a feel for being on board a ship, and learn firsthand about conducting scientific studies and promoting long-term stewardship of the Great Lakes and the oceans.
Having these experiences as a teacher enables me to go more in depth with our science studies in the classroom, and to show how science and technology are related to every field of study in classroom curriculums, she said. Ive been able to filter my new knowledge and experiences into so many other areas of my teaching.
The opportunities are everywhere for teachers.
She would recommend these types of field experiences to any teacher because she and her students have benefited from them. The best places to find these opportunities are in publications by professional organizations, like the National Science Teachers Association, and the World Wide Web.
Teachers interested in
the Sea Education Association program can find more information on its Web
site at www.sea.edu.
The Teacher at Sea program is at www.tas.noaa.gov.
The Inland Seas Education Association is at www.schoolship.org.