Jul 10, 2009

The Teacher's Perspective

What Middle School science teacher, after spending the school year teaching Earth science to sixth graders and life science to seventh graders, would want to spend precious weeks of summer on an active, island volcano observing the very species and places that led Darwin to formulate the Theory of Evolution? Well, I, for one, am willing to make that summer sacrifice in order to model the role of the teacher/scientist in forming communication bridges between present and future scientists.

This is not my first teacher research experience. It’s my third. A teacher research experience in plate tectonics at Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) inspired my teaching. As a Teacher at Sea aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, I reflected on my own experiences as a scientist, then teacher. I realized that what happens in middle school can be pivotal in defining a career path. Having the chance to go to field camp with our father at about that age resulted in three of five siblings becoming geologists. Interaction with cutting edge technologies and scientific projects may be another way to inspire the next generation of scientists. Visualizing and investigating the internal structure of an active volcano in the Galapagos Islands will put a research tool in the hands of students, allowing them to practice the scientific method by discovering the answers to their own questions. I want to guide my students to tools, so they can do just that. This time I wanted to be involved and involve my students in a research project from inception to conclusion. So, I received a grant from NSF to fund my participation in this project. I thank the Principal Investigators for supporting me in this endeavor. If my mission is successful perhaps there will be a place for a scientist/teacher on many future projects.

Here’s my plan.
Once a year I will accompany a scientific team to the Gal├ípagos, in the first year to help deploy equipment, in subsequent years to download data, service equipment and of course see what the volcano is up to. As I am a geologist by training, I will be able to effectively assist with much of the work. I will also be documenting the field work by writing and updating the Expedition to Sierra Negra blog. Each summer I will do two to four weeks of field and lab work with one of the Principal Investigators to keep abreast of research progress. My sixth grade students at The Girls’ Middle School will also be following the progress of research at Sierra Negra. If we’re lucky there will be many earthquakes and perhaps an eruption of two. As I work with the research team and develop relationships with other scientists, I am hoping to promote direct interaction of the scientists with my students. Perhaps the most exciting part of my plan will come at the end of the project when all of the data is in, and I work with the SIO Visualization Lab to create a 4D visualization of the internal structure of an active volcano, an ideal educational tool for students studying volcanoes.

If you would like to know more about my previous teacher research experiences and geologic visualizations check out the following links.
http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/2008/hjelm/index.html
http://earthref.org/events/ERESE/2005/
http://siovizcenter.ucsd.edu/index.php