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The Next Voyage?
Research team seeks grant to expand teacher-training expeditions

By Eric Gorton

"We gave the teachers nearly a semester of material in less than two weeks and the teachers turned around and immediately made lesson plans using authentic scientific ocean-drilling data for the grade levels they teach." — Kristen St. John

There's nothing quite like the teacher with firsthand experience in the subject being taught.

That's why JMU geology Associate Professor Kristen St. John is looking to expand upon a special, hands-on research expedition for earth and ocean-science teachers that she helped to lead in fall 2005: A two-week voyage on the drill ship JOIDES Resolution.

Thirteen middle- and high-school teachers selected from across the country spent two weeks aboard the ship as it sailed from Victoria, Canada, to Acapulco, Mexico, as an ocean-going classroom, dubbed the "School of Rock." Along the way, the teachers observed firsthand how St. John and other scientists collect samples and study data mined from the ocean depths. The teachers also corresponded daily with their students and others around the world who logged onto a Web site created to follow the expedition.

St. John is a member of an investigative team seeking a $1.17 million grant from the National Science Foundation for more teachers and their students to reap the same benefits as those who participated in the first voyage. In addition to offering more ocean-going experiences, the team's proposed program, "Investigating Earth Systems' History," would involve training exercises in repositories where cores drilled from ocean floors are stored for study, in the laboratories of scientists in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and in the drill ship's home ports.

The trip last fall, Oct. 29-Nov. 16, exceeded St. John's expectations, she said. "We gave the teachers nearly a semester of material in less than two weeks and the teachers turned around and immediately made lesson plans using authentic scientific ocean-drilling data for the grade levels they teach.

"Days were long—7 a.m. to 10 p.m. sometimes—but we all wanted to be there and knew what a special opportunity this was, hopefully, paving the way for more like it."

In its application for the grant, the investigative team wrote: "The proposed activities are built upon the evaluation conducted during and after (the School of Rock) that revealed educators grasped the importance of scientific ocean drilling, the (ship's) role in the scientific process and the historical role of cores as a primary data source."

Their program aims to advance knowledge of earth science and scientists' tools for discovery and to inspire students to include earth science in their education.

Funds for the proposal are being requested from GLOBE, the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program funded by NSF and NASA. The GLOBE program anticipates having $4 million over four years and will make awards to three to five projects; those will be announced in mid-summer, St. John said.