Camas High School environmental teacher Jennifer Dean is one of 35 teachers from across the nation selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to be a part of its Teacher at Sea program, which provides educators with real-world science research experiences.
The program had nearly 300 teachers vying for the opportunity to assist scientists in research, and Dean won one of the coveted spots.
She will embark on a 13-day endeavor to survey six marine-protected areas off Florida’s Atlantic coast on the NOAA Ship Pisces, a fisheries and oceanographic research vessel that sets sail on May 12, from Mayport, Florida.
She had considered becoming a research scientist before going into education, Dean said, but the birth of her first child changed her career trajectory.
Still, Dean said she loves doing research outside of the classroom because the nature of science is based on the discovery of new things.
“I am very, very curious, so I love every opportunity to learn something new about how the world works,” Dean said. “Even before I went into teaching, that’s what I loved about science, was asking a question and trying to figure it out. So, getting to participate in that kind of thinking is what I like.”
Dean has taught at Camas High School for 22 years and said teaching science provides her with the best of both worlds.
“I can go do research through different summer programs, and I get to learn new things every single day,” she said.
Dean has a background in tiny-abstract molecular and cellular biology and genetics, but is now taking a dive to understand more about environmental science.
“I have looked more for my weaknesses,” she said. “I’ve been trying to learn more about global processes and environmental science to help with the magnet program (at Camas High), because the kids’ research tends to be around environmental topics.”
Dean’s NOAA trip is one step toward a better understanding of environmental science, and she said she is looking forward to being on a 12-hour shift. On her split shift, working for six hours at night and six hours during the daytime, Dean will study how marine-protected areas affect certain species of fish and a particular community of coral.
“So, I get to see every part of the ship’s operations,” she said. “I’m excited to get to see how all those different careers work together to do this research. But also, to work in the lab area for the fisheries part, so that I can understand more about NOAA’s fishery department in general and how they collect their data.”
The trip is Dean’s first time working with NOAA, and she said she is already looking forward to applying for another NOAA opportunity to expand her knowledge base.
Dean is no stranger to teacher-research programs.
The science teacher has spent two summers studying algal blooms in Vancouver Lake and participated in the National Science Foundation funded GK-12 program that allowed three scientists to work in her classroom over four years.
Dean hopes the research trip will help her develop new curriculum for her Camas High courses.
The students at Camas already have two chapters in their course that focus on fresh water and marine water systems.
“Kids learn by stories, and I’ll have much better real-life stories to give them on how all of that works,” she said. “Also, hopefully, (I’ll be) able to lead them directly to resources for their own research and links off of NOAA’s sites.”
Through NOAA, students can look at live data. When she returns from her trip, Dean will understand more about where the data is coming from, how it’s collected and what it takes to provide that data, and she can share her new knowledge with her students.
She also plans to share her journey in real-time, though photos and blog posts uploaded to NOAA’s website.
“I feel like I’m kind of a reporter that’s helping explain things to the public, which is kind of cool because my students will have the chance to comment and ask questions while I’m on (the boat),” she said. “That’s a neat component of it, in that I’ll get to interview the different staff, scientists and captain, and different personnel that are on the ship and get their different perspectives of how they got into that field or why they like science.”
To follow Dean’s journey off the Florida coast, visit teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/2018/Jennifer*Dean/blogs.