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Sitting Down with a Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Daftari with a tiger shark aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II.

The home states of NOAA's 2011 Teachers at Sea
The home states of NOAA's 2012 Teachers at Sea

March 27, 2012

This spring, 25 teachers from across the country will set out to sea to work and live alongside NOAA scientists through the NOAA Teacher At Sea program—a program that bridges science with education. 

In its 22nd year, the Teacher at Sea program has provided more than 600 teachers hands-on marine research experiences varying from fish surveys in Alaska to tidal research in the Indian Ocean. Upon return, the teachers bring their greater understanding and excitement back to the classroom, giving their students a glimpse into a scientific world that is otherwise inaccessible.

To get a better idea of how these new teachers will bring this experience into their classrooms, we spent some time with an alumni from the 2011 class, Jennifer Daftari. Daftari, a 5th grade teacher at Jay Public School in Jay, Oklahoma traveled aboard NOAA’s Oregon II for two weeks surveying sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. She has been a science teacher for 15 years but had almost no experience with ocean science until she boarded the ship. We recently caught up with Daftari to see how her time at sea has translated to learning in the classroom.

How did you communicate with your students while you were at sea?

Every teacher in the program keeps an online blog that the students follow. We post pictures, stories, and important research so the kids can be a part of the mission. This was especially true in my case because I was the first teacher in the program [in the 2011 season] to be out at sea while school was in session.       

How did your students respond to your blog?

Another teacher substituted while I was away, and she told me that my students read my blog every day and would constantly ask if I had posted anything new. This was a really exciting experience for them. Most have never been outside the state or even the county. Yet, when they speak about my Teacher at Sea experience they say, “we went on a trip.”

How did you integrate your experience into the classroom?

I was able to show the students big life lessons I learned at sea, like the importance of teamwork. We did a mock reenactment of the NOAA ship Oregon II where I demonstrated how a boat is like a little city—everyone on board including the scientists, engineers, technicians, officers, chefs, and fishermen all work together to make it run. I also came back with lots of photos and videos. It is one thing to read about the food chain, but it is another to show them a picture of a shark with a fish in its mouth and see how it works.

What were your students surprised to learn?

By far, the students’ favorite activity was creating life-size drawings of sharks with chalk. Kids tend to think that all sharks are Great Whites, but the activity showed them the variety of sharks. They couldn’t believe that 15 kids could fit inside a Whale Shark. It means so much to me when I hear the kids say “I never thought I liked science; now I do.”

Do you have any future plans to share this kind of science?                                    

This whole experience has opened up our school to oceanic life. While I was at sea, the scientists recommended a marine biology camp in Galveston, Texas, where I will be taking the kids next summer. Through my new connections, I am also setting up some of the high-school students with marine science internships. Many students have wanted more information. I would say about 95% of the kids didn’t know that these careers existed. Not a lot of money goes into science education; it’s largely spent on reading and math, so programs like Teacher at Sea are invaluable. If it wasn’t for the Teacher at Sea program this avenue would not have been available to my students. 

For more information...
To meet and follow all the 25 teachers that were selected for the 2012 season along on their adventure and learn more about the research cruises that they participate in, follow their blogs at the Teacher at Sea website