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Elementary School Teacher becomes Sea Savvy

Many scientists say they developed their interest in science at an early age, so they realize it's important to get kids interested in science. Research publications and even news reports about new developments and discoveries are often too technical for young students to understand, so that's where teachers come in, especially educators who have been given hands-on experience.

Joining a team of scientists recently aboard a research vessel studying deep sea corals along the U.S. Atlantic coast was an elementary school teacher, part of the Educator at Sea program of NOAA, the U.S. ocean research agency.

We found a quiet place to talk on board the ship, the Seward Johnson -- it was on the bridge, actually; a surprisingly high-tech control room that looked in places more like a video game console than a place to steer a ship.

"I'm Reneé Green, and I'm a third grade teacher at Level Cross Elementary School in Randolph County, which is in North Carolina."

This is not the first science expedition Renee Green has been on. Previously she went to Belize in Central America as part of the Educator of Excellence program of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum mails out announcements of similar programs, including the NOAA Educator at Sea.

"And I read it, and I toyed with the idea of, wouldn't it be great to do it," said Ms. Green. "I had no clue what I was in for, but anytime I learn anything first hand it's better for my students because I can bring it back more personal to them. So I'm the first elementary educator that they've ever picked."

While on board the Seward Johnson, Reneé Green worked with the scientists as they investigated coral and other marine life at the edge of the continental shelf. She even got to visit the ocean floor in the ship's research sub, the Johnson Sea Link. As the scientist sat alongside the pilot in the acrylic bubble up front, she assisted in the rear compartment.

"Yes, that was the highlight of my trip, was going down in the sub," she recalled. "I don't know, it was just an awesome experience. And when we went down I had a lot of jobs to do. I had to keep track of what they said from the sphere, they would talk to me, the scientists in the sphere would talk to me and I would take notes and I had a video screen that I would watch, and then I would record the depth and the time, and then what they were seeing, and also I wore an audio recorder of what I would see. The whole experience was just so incredible."

It's actually pretty unusual for a third grade teacher, with students aged 9 or 10, to have this sort of opportunity. So how does an educator at sea convey that excitement to her young students back in landlocked Randolph County, North Carolina?

"Right now as it is I've been e-mailing my students and they've been following along the logs on the web, and they're very, very excited. They've posted some questions to me and I got to answer those. When we go back they'll do some research. I let them choose whatever they want to from the ocean to do some research on, which brings in a lot of different skills. I will come up with some lesson plans that will be posted on the museum's web page that will be geared more towards the kindergarten through fifth grade, because right now they're focusing from fifth grade up, and there's not anything really out there for teachers like me to tap into."

Finally, I asked Reneé Green, after surviving a trip to the ocean floor and a bout of seasickness, what she would tell other teachers who might be interested in this program. "I would say go for it ... but take plenty of medication with you," she added, laughing.

Educator-at-Sea Reneé Green teaches at Level Cross Elementary School in North Carolina. We caught up with her aboard the research vessel Seward Johnson at port in Charleston, South Carolina.