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Out to Sea

Hutchison Farm teacher plans to pass on knowledge she gained while a Teacher at Sea.

On any given day Jill Carpenter's fifth-grade class at Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding might be looking at photos, conducting a scientific experiment or examining and holding otoliths, ear bones that were pulled from fish collected by Carpenter.

Each of those activities are a part of the plans that Carpenter has to pass the information she learned while working on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship in September.

"I want to be able to make science more real to my students," Carpenter said. "To show them that it is accessible."

CARPENTER, WHO is the science contact for Hutchison Farm, spent 10 days at the beginning of the school year in NOAA's Teacher at Sea program on the research ship Delaware II. Working the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, Carpenter participated in the study of fish in the Gulf of Maine. Carpenter joined the scientists in studying how many different species were in the waters, how many of each species were evident and what each fish was eating.

The ship would use sonar in the water to determine if there was anything around. If objects were detected, Carpenter said, the ship would trawl with nets, collecting fish, as well as other items from the water.

While Carpenter said she was hesitant at first about sorting through fish, all of whom had bulging eyes due to pressure of being brought out of the water.

"By the end of the trip, though, I was jumping in and helping," she said.

NOAA'S TEACHER at Sea program started in 1990, and was held yearly until a manager was hired in 2003 to expand it, Elizabeth McMahon, the deputy program manager for Teacher at Sea, said.

"Now we have about 30 teachers per year to work on NOAA ships and to work with scientists," she said.

Teachers at any grade level can participate in the program, which is free to participants, and McMahon said NOAA has had kindergarten teachers to college professors on its ships.

"The goal is for them to have a hands-on scientific experience and to use that experience in their classrooms," she said. "It's a way for teachers to get some additional development and find out what is really happening in one area of science."

WHILE CARPENTER said she learned a great deal about the ocean and fish while on her trip, she believed the most valuable thing she gained was an understanding of science in general.

"I got the greater idea of learning," she said. "I came back so excited about science and about learning more about [it.]"

Carpenter, who earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education, is working toward her master's in biological science during a summer program at Miami of Ohio.

"It is a program for teachers," she said. "I am really trying to bulk up on my science."

Making science easy for her students to understand is just as important to Carpenter as increasing her own understanding.

"I want them to realize that science can happen anywhere," she said. "It is cool for me to see that it is finally accessible to everyone."

MEETING AND spending time with real scientists, helped Carpenter to dispel any preconceptions she had about who a scientist was and she said she hopes to pass that idea on to her students.

"The people I met really inspired me," she said.

In addition, Carpenter said she learned a lot about the scientific process.

"It really is problem solving," she said. "I learned how it does not always follow the steps in the book."

McMahon said that is one of the main things NOAA hopes to teach its participating teachers.

"It is about professional development," she said. "The reality of science."

AS PART OF the Teacher at Sea program, Carpenter was required to keep a daily log, both of what happened on the ship and her personal thoughts on the day's events. Each day, Carpenter wrote out questions and problems she could ask her students about what she was doing, including terms used on a ship, math problems and questions on the scientific process.

In addition, Carpenter was required to create several lesson plans based on what she learned on her ship, teaching her how to transfer the information to her fifth-graders. The lesson plans included everything from counting a fisherman's daily catch, to observing marine life and calculating the real weight of objects. Each lesson plan meets state requirements, Carpenter said, so they can become a real part of her classroom.

MCMAHON SAID that while the requirements for teachers are not specific, the biggest thing NOAA looks at when a teacher applies is the mock lesson plans they put together.

"We look for their ideas on how they're going to express what they learn on the research vessel to their students," she said.

Overall Carpenter said everything that she learned on the Delaware II can only help her students in the future.

"I grew with my knowledge that I am passing on to my students," she said. "This can help me to have that greater understanding and more knowledge to pull from to answer their questions."