A teacher heads for Alaska to get real-life science lessons

Posted: July 07, 2013

Rosalind Echols' teaching methods are not exactly conventional.

So instead of spending the summer reading up on the scientific method to write a lesson plan, she will cruise through Alaskan waters with a team of scientists to see the process in action.

Echols, a physics teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Center City, uses real-life experience in her classes. One of her favorite assignments is to ask students to study the subway to see how force causes riders to stumble if they don't grab a handbar.

To tell the story behind scientific research, she will hop on a cruise ship Monday and set out from Kodiak, Alaska, to chart the ocean floor.

Echols will take part in the Teacher at Sea program sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For 18 days, she will join a crew on the ship Rainier and study the ocean up close.

The program was started in 1990 to show how NOAA's research is used, director Jennifer Hammond said. Oceanographic studies, for example, can help predict hurricanes and storms.

"The science research we conduct applies directly to people and everyday life," Hammond said. "They're very real issues that people aren't familiar with, so who better to tell NOAA's science story than teachers in the classroom?"

Echols' work mapping the bottom of the ocean is key to making sure ships do not run aground or sink after hitting unseen objects, she said.

To accomplish the task, she will take a small motorboat equipped with sonar to chart shallow areas too dangerous for the main ship to navigate. She will also use equipment that gauges the temperature and salinity of the ocean, which can be used to track oceanic warming and the movement of fish.

This fall, students in Echols' four physics classes will have the chance to work with the data she will help collect.

Principal Chris Lehmann said Echols' creative projects already electrify the classroom, but her experience on the Rainier will take it a step further.

"A lot of students have been to the beach but don't know much about how we learn about ocean," Echols said. "The challenge is how I can . . . turn it into an actual experience for students."

Track Echols' trip at teacheratsea.noaa.gov.

Contact Summer Ballentine at 215-854-2415 or SBallentine@philly.com. Follow her on Twitter @esballentine.

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