Rhode Island teachers travel aboard URI ship Endeavor to learn about science at sea

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – August 27, 2015 – Two weeks before returning to the classroom for the new school year, Nick Terry and eight other teachers from throughout Rhode Island spent five days as students once again. But their classroom wasn’t like any they had seen before.

They were selected for the Rhode Island Teachers at Sea program to learn about oceanography aboard the University of Rhode Island’s research vessel Endeavor.

“I went into this adventure excited and with an open mind, but not knowing what to expect,” said Terry, a preschool teacher at the Gordon School in East Providence. “I came home with a better understanding of what it takes to work and learn at sea and realized it’s the same as in the classroom – you need lots of patience, practice and teamwork.”

The Rhode Island Teachers at Sea program is designed to establish sustainable partnerships between ocean scientists, researchers and teachers who live and teach in Rhode Island. It is funded by the Rhode Island Endeavor Program, a state-funded effort to provide URI researchers and local educators with access to the scientific research and educational capabilities of an ocean-going research vessel.

Led by URI Oceanography Professors David Smith and Chris Roman, the Endeavor carried the teachers 100 miles south of Block Island where they towed a plankton net, collected water samples at various depths, deployed several oceanographic research instruments, and conducted experiments. They also learned about the ship’s operations and the physical aspects of working at sea.

“Our main objective was to try to get the teachers to understand how science happens at sea,” said Smith, who also serves as associate dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. “Working at sea is a lot more difficult than working on land, and the variability of the ocean itself somewhat limits what we can do and observe about it.”

Blackstone Valley Prep science teacher Jessica Grant was amazed at how much she learned about marine science in such a short period of time.

“Marine research is a never ending job, but the results are so rewarding,” she said. “Testing water samples, analyzing data, and observing the tiny organisms that live within our ocean under a microscope has taught me so much about the one place on our planet where there is still so much to be discovered.”

In addition to Terry and Grant, the other teachers participating were Meredith Ashworth, Narragansett High School; Joseph Bartoshevich, Kickemuit Middle School, Warren; Trisha Garland, East Bay Met School, Newport; Aman Malik, Central High School, Providence; Jennifer Pietros, Coventry Middle School; and Alyssa Wood, Sophia Academy, Providence.

Every year, Rhode Island teachers are invited to participate in a research expedition aboard Endeavor, but Smith said this trip he aimed to get as many teachers aboard the ship as possible.

“We’re quite proud to be operating Endeavor, and grateful for the support from the state through the Rhode Island Endeavor Program,” he said. “Operating a research ship is a sign of being a player on the world stage of oceanography, and the generous support from the state helps us maintain that position. This trip with the teachers is a way to show Rhode Islanders what a great resource we have in the Endeavor.”

Smith said that the one thing most of the teachers were surprised about was how comfortable the accommodations are aboard Endeavor.

“First timers are always surprised at how well we eat at sea, and they don’t have a clear understanding of how that happens,” he said. “It’s a very comfortable ship, and I’m sure that part of the trip exceeded their expectations.”

By the end of the five-day expedition, the teachers were looking forward to returning to the classroom to share their experiences with their students and fellow teachers.

“The Rhode Island Teachers at Sea program provided me with an invaluable opportunity to make meaningful connections to scientists and the crew, fellow educators, and the ocean,” said science teacher Alyssa Wood. “My experience was fulfilling and memorable, and I have material and stories of science to share about my time out at sea with my students for years to come.”

Pictured above: Rhode Island educators pose with URI scientists and crew aboard the Endeavor during an expedition 100 miles south of Block Island. (Photo courtesy of the URI Office of Marine Programs.)