Back in the Classroom

The minute we got off the boat, we were back in teacher mode, prepping for the new school year, moving into new classrooms (dude, why did we find resources from the 60s in our prep room??), studying academic plans, pouring over Pinterest looking for decoration and lesson ideas, and of course, writing curriculum for our new classes. With that, our attention to our blog came to an abrupt halt (obviously!).

As of today, we have been back in the classroom for a whole quarter. Today we get to wade through the remainder of our grading, submit grades, and get ready for the next quarter. We are also finally at a point in the school year where we’ve both caught our strides and can breathe a little bit. To that end, we have time to turn our attention back to our awesome experiences this summer and continue to work through the ideas that were born of it.

We just spoke with Anne and Aubreya to debrief our trip. It was really nice to reconnect with the AACSE crew and discuss about our experiences. It also renewed our enthusiasm for developing our lesson plan ideas and got us back into creative mode.

So… here’s what we’ve got for you. We will not be posting much else to this blog about our experiences. Possibly a reflection article or occasional update. But we WILL be posting the curriculum we develop. So, if you are interested in seeing what we come up with, consider setting up email updates to notify you when we post them. The goal is to get up draft lessons in the new few weeks. We will be troubleshooting these lessons in the spring in our Earth & Space Science classes. We will be sure to post the final final versions of our lesson plans after that.

Thank you all for following us!

Bethany and Shannon

PS It is sooooo much easier to update this blog with real internet.


Day 11: The Teacher Part

            One of the most challenging aspects of teaching science is finding ways to simplify concepts without making them inaccurate. It’s important to give students a foundation that they can build on. Sometimes teachers fail. I’ve experience the result myself – been taught something and then later found out that it was so oversimplified that the basic understanding I thought I had was entirely false. Our job is to reduce misconceptions; not propagate them, and that can be really difficult.

            I’m sitting here, in front of 15 monitors, learning about I-don’t-know-how-many different systems that are all collecting data about EVERYTHING, trying to figure out how I learn it well enough to simplify it AND teach it to my students. Maybe even get them excited to be the knowledge acquirers themselves. So how do I do that – how do I learn the basics of what these PhDs have studied for years and make that information accessible to my students?

            By some magic, it looks like we’ll actually be finished deploying OBSs a couple days before the cruise is over. Science will continue on the boat, but some of us (like me for example) will have extra downtime. I have a stack of journal articles that have been printed as relevant topics have come up, PowerPoint presentations and notes from the science talks, and an expectation that I will find a way to transfer this knowledge to my students. I know what I’ll be doing during our “downtime.”

            On another topic, life on the boat is way more monotonous than I thought it’d be. I’m hesitant to discuss it, for fear it would come across as complaining. For researchers, this kind of field work is part of the job. For me, it’s a one-time deal. I most likely will never get the chance to do this kind of field work again. For that reason, I feel like I have to enjoy and absolutely love every moment of it. It’s like when we get a lot of sunny days in a row in the summer in Alaska. YOU MUST BE OUTSIDE AND ENJOYING EVERY SECOND. But alas, I cannot. I’m not used to sitting this much. Or living in such a confined, restricted space. The days are so similar that they blur together. That being said, I’m also not used to seeing science in action. It’s been many years since I worked in the field. I love the feeling of new discovery, new ideas (even if they are just new to me!), and getting to be a part (even if it’s just a small part) of sciencing. 

Alaska Science, Educators on Board

Day 8: Hindsight is 20/20

IMG_1816There is a lot of really awesome science happening on this boat. But as we’ve sat down to write about it, we find it hard not to write what’s already been talked about. If you haven’t gotten a chance, you should check out www.alaskaamphibious.wordpress.com. That’s the blog that’s been maintained throughout both legs of this project and it does a stellar job explaining all the science that’s been done.

We’ve been trying to share more about the rest of the experience too. Because that’s a big part of what goes into doing this kind of work. These are the things we didn’t really think about when we were stoked just to be getting to doing this! So…

Being on a research vessel has its perks. Someone cooks for you. Every meal. We don’t have to shop, plan the meal, cook, or clean. If you have a family, you can understand why this is such a big deal. You are only doing your own laundry. Not laundry for husbands and kids…I didn’t realize how little laundry I actually produce.

Turns out there is more downtime on the boat than we expected. This makes it easier to miss our families. That was one we expected but now that we are closer to being home, I think we are getting a little homesick. Second, we forgot Dr. Pepper. Bethany and I don’t drink a lot of soda, but we realized just this morning that an ice cold Dr. Pepper would be uh-mazing. We are very disappointed in ourselves for dropping the ball on that one.

I should have brought my hairdryer. I hate going to bed with wet hair. Oh, and I would really like my Bluetooth headphones that I packed but my children removed from my suitcase.

I should have brought more videos to watch on my IPad while I work out. I ran out of Stranger Things the other day and now have nothing to watch while I’m running on the super fun treadmill. It’s way too hard to read on a treadmill on a boat.

I really wish I had some skittles. I purposely didn’t bring candy because I was going to try and be healthy on this trip…. but they make desserts every day and have a freezer just for ice cream. Thankfully I am a super picky eater and haven’t really loved anything enough to splurge. **Edit: Today they made amazing cookies…I ate like 4 or 5. 

Beth and Shan


Alaska Science, Educators on Board

Day 7: Random Stuff

Bethany here. I wrote some stuff. Then Shannon added her two cents. We decided to just post it as is.

Currently, we are going over the Aleutian Trench. I’m not sure why I think this is so cool, but I do. We have deployed our most distant OBS and are now heading back towards Seward (we will continue deploying OBSs along the way). It IS cool that we are going over the trench! How many people can say that they have sailed over the Aleutian Trench?

I’ve heard that there’s been concern about the level of sea sickness that has been experienced on the boat. I think only two people had “serious” issues and they both are fully recovered. Nothing to worry about! I am not fully recovered; I am permanently traumatized by the R/V Sikuliaq. (She’s being dramatic)

USGS is mapping the ocean floor during this cruise. It is amazing how little of the ocean floor has been mapped. Quick, superficial summary of how the sonar works: The ship sends out sound waves that bounce off the sea floor. Based on how long the waves take to return, the system can determine the distance to the ocean floor and translates it into a map of what the ocean floor looks like (bathymetry). I was really surprised to learn that much of the ocean floor is either not mapped, or just really poorly mapped. We can map the moons of Jupiter but not our own ocean floor? It really just blew my mind.

The light blue/white areas on this map show the regions of the ocean floor that have NOT been mapped yet! The green dots are the sites where AACSE is dropping OBSs.

During her watchstander shift last night, Shannon “discovered” a seamount, so that was fun. At Shannon’s insistence, they did another pass to map more of it. It really is fun to think about all the things that still haven’t been discovered yet! I have named it Petit Shan, but apparently it is a little bigger than the other petit-spot volcanoes that have been found. So we might have to rename my little volcano at a later date.

Shannon’s Seamount

Now that we’ve started to figure out life at sea, we are going to start focusing more on how we can integrate what we’ve learned into our lessons. Hopefully we’ll have something worth looking at by the end of the cruise! We also have science talks to look forward to during the cruise which is very cool.




Alaska Science, Educators on Board

Day 6: What to do if you are trapped on the Sikuliaq

There are lots of options to keep yourself busy on the Sikuliaq (ok, not lots, but just go with me here).

There are lots of people on lots of different shifts. Some are on 8 hour shifts, some are on 12 hour shifts, some are even on weird split shifts. And then there are the ones that are awake at the mercy of the OBS. The crew from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are on duty whenever it is time for an OBS to be dropped. So far that hasn’t been too bad for them as transit times from site to site have been long. Starting soon, though, the launch sites will be much closer together.

Back to what I was saying about keeping busy. Seems Bethany and I have different ideas on what to do with our down time. I am more of a sleep, chill, and play video games kinda gal. Bethany is a work out, stress over new preps, and read a book kinda gal.

The Sikuliaq has a gym. Not a huge gym, but apparently, such a well-stocked gym is rare on these types of boats. There is a rowing machine, two bikes, some punching bags, and a bunch of free weights. Oh, and there is also a treadmill in a random hallway on the ship. I like to go torture Bethany when she is using it. I myself have not been brave enough to try it out. I just like to wear my workout pants around the ship so that other people think that I am trying to stay active, when really it’s more likely that I just woke up.


Other activities include a homemade ping pong table in one of the science labs, and a pretty nice lounge equipped with an Xbox, Nintendo switch, a poker table, a ton of books, and a bunch of movies. I haven’t really seen many people hang out in there, but it’s a comfy space to relax. I spent some time in there last night hanging out and playing a video game on my own. People traveled in and out, but there wasn’t a group movie night or anything going on.

It seems that a lot of people use this time to hang out on their own. Sleeping, reading, etc. When you work 12 hours with people, you might not want to spend all your down time with them too. Thankfully we are just on 8 hour shifts and aren’t tired of each other yet. Bethany sleeps while I work and I sleep while she works. It’s a pretty good schedule for us both.

This might sound like all fun and games, but most of people’s time is spent working. The grad students are writing proposals, the professors are writing comments on thesis (some bad, some good), and plenty of time is spent reading journal articles about geoscience so that we can all attempt to stay on the same page. One way or another we are all staying busy and productive! IMG_1797

Alaska Science, Educators on Board

Day 5: What do we do anyway?


Time  Bethany Shannon
0330 Alarm goes off Sleeping
0345 Bethany drags her butt out of bed, makes some tea, and hopefully remembers to brush her teeth. Sleeping
0400 Hopefully Bethany has made it to the computer lab for her Watchstander shift Sleeping; grateful her loud roommate has left
0715 If not deploying an OBS, goes up to wake Shannon for breakfast Grudgingly gets up when Beth gets her for breakfast.
0745 Back to the computer lab! If there’s downtime, Beth works on lesson planning or journaling. Pumps milk for Luca. Plays video games for about an hour and then it’s back to sleep.
1130 Watchstander Lunch. Time to socialize with other members who are from all over the country.
1200 Lunch. Lunch and dinner are awesome because everyone gets the chance to visit with the rest of the science team. It’s super interesting to hear what everyone else is working on. Watchstander Shift begins. Check email to see if she missed anything while sleeping too many hours. Texts her family to tell them she has survived another day.
1300 Veg Out Time (Beth is super sad she only brought 2 seasons of one show. She doesn’t get to binge watch tv at home. If she’s feeling really motivated, she reads back issues of Science Teacher magazine) Watching
1500 Beth begins to feel guilty about sitting all day so she tries really hard to workout. Have you ever tried to run on a treadmill that keeps moving away from and toward you?? (There may or may not be a rather comical video of this) Watchstander
1700 Meets Shannon for dinner (Sometimes. When Beth was on the sea sickness patch, Shan had to come wake her for dinner. Stupid side effects) Dinner in shifts while the crew keeps track of the OBS. Dinner seems to keep coinciding with an OBS launch so everyone eats quickly.
1800 Work Time! Blogging, journaling, writing lesson plans for next fall (or for this project). Watching and working with Beth on those things.
1900 Climbs into bed. Tries to read (Working on Lab Girl; it’s pretty interesting) Watch. Find cool places to place Silas’s toy so she can send fun pictures back home.
1930 Bethany really hopes she’s asleep, even though we all know she won’t be. Watch. Attempts to plan lessons during down time as they travel to new OBS drop sites.
2000 Bethany shoots the breeze with Shannon when she should be sleeping. Shift over; visits with Bethany when she should be sleeping. Squeeze in a shower (maybe) and grab some snacks to relax.
2030 Sleeping Veg Time: Plays video games, texts with family.

Starting tomorrow (Monday 7/16), we will get an opportunity to hear more about what the scientists on the team are working on. Natalia Rupert, a seismologist from University of Alaska Fairbanks, is doing our first science talk!

I’m not sure if it’s due to calmer seas or becoming acclimated, but everyone seems to be feeling pretty good today! 

Got a great view from the port hole in my room!

PS I love that they call this a “cruise.”

Alaska Science, Educators on Board

Day 4: Rougher Seas

In case you were wondering where we are.

We’ve hit some rough seas over the last 18 hours. Luckily, we have still been able to deploy our OBSs and stay on our timeline. Unfortunately, many stomachs have not been able to do their jobs since the rocking started.

That’s something I didn’t think too much about before we got on the boat. I had already stocked up on Dramamine and the sea sickness patch. Everyone has ginger everything. Let’s just get on and do our jobs, right? NOPE. We’ve got a tough crew though and everyone seems to be powering through.

The rumor is that sea sickness is your body thinking you’ve been poisoned and trying to get you to vomit it up. That’s definitely what it feels like! The other rumor is that your body gets used to the constant motion of the boat by day five. Well, tomorrow is day five, so I’ll let you know!

Here’s a summary of why we’re out here: ProjectSummary

Educators on Board

Day 3: Lessons Learned At Sea

AlansHatThings we have learned so far on the trip:

  • Three hour naps in the middle of the day screw up your sleep cycle.
  • Everyone deserves an amazing mess hall team that provides you with meals three times a day plus snack availability 24/7.
  • Everything takes longer than you think it should. Plan accordingly.
  • All children should start learning how to code now, because apparently, it’s become a life skill (code.org is a good place to start!).
  • There’s no such thing as too much warm weather gear.
  • Ginger candy is gross.
  • Hard hats fall off your head too easily.
  • The sea sickness patch can make you look like David Bowie.
Educators on Board

Day 2: [Mostly] Smooth Sailing

I (Bethany) got up bright (well, it wasn’t so bright quite yet) and early this morning to take on my first full shift as a watchstander. Everyone on the science team has a shift as a watchstander. The watchstanders have a few responsibilities:

  • Watch the monitors. Make sure that everything is running and collecting data appropriately (for me – this means just I watch for red or yellow lights or wonky numbers/no movement of numbers).
  • Help with the deployment of the OBSs.
  • Deploy other instruments as necessary.
  • Maintain an activity log.

We have more responsibilities, but are still learning. Watching the screens in the computer room is mesmerizing. There are more than 20 monitors in that room! I feel like I’m in a control room for NASA like you see on TV. It’s nuts how much cool data we are collecting. At one point, we saw an interesting feature on the ocean floor and spent some fun time trying to figure out what it could be. We also deployed a little sensor that measured the water temperature for the top 700-ish meters. We deployed that sensor at sunrise. It was crazy to see such a beautiful sunrise and no land at all!

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We began our first OBS deployment toward the end of my shift. I stuck around to check it out. It was simultaneously anticlimatic and interesting.

As a side note, most people are starting to adjust to life at sea. Which is good, because sea sickness is pretty terrible. Hopefully we’ll be running a full watchstander crew from here on out.

As a side teacher note, before I came on the cruise, I had some self-doubt about finding ideas for lesson plans. Now that it’s started, I feel like I can’t write my ideas down fast enough. And I’m even more excited to write those lesson plans on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

Shannon here! When my shift started today, Bethany’s team had just launched an OBS and were waiting for it to hit bottom. It took around 90 minutes to touch down. After some data collection, we were supposed to have the boat make a circle around the OBS to double check its precise position so when they come back in 18 months to get it, it will actually be where they expect it to be.

Doing some “real” science…

As is typical with all first attempts, we ran into a snag. There was an issue between the computer running M-Cal (this is the computer program that determines the way points we use to check on the OBS location) and the Edgetech machine that communicates with the OBS on the bottom of the ocean.

It was cool to watch WHOI (Woods Hole) engineers, Sikuliaq engineers, and our science team all work together to solve the problem. It took several attempts and a new approach, but we finally came up with a plan that worked! It’s pretty amazing that this team was just formed a couple days ago and they are already working together so productively, effectively, and amicably towards a common goal.

During this time, I embodied a teacher stereotype: multitasking! As I waited, I made lists of what I need to get ready for the first week of school, worked on my syllabus for my classes, and chatted with the other scientists and engineers about life, science, travel, and whatever else comes to mind. This is an awesome group of people.