Teacher at Sea Alumni Association Spreads Ocean Optimism During COVID-19

A group of educators in a small boat holding their oars straight up in the air.

2017 Teacher At Sea Alumni Association Workshop, Southwest Region in La Jolla, CA. Photo: Ryan Hawk/TASAA

This year, NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program celebrated its 30th anniversary. Formed in 1990 to provide teachers with hands-on, real world research experience working at sea, the Teacher at Sea program has served over 850 teachers. Teacher at Sea provides a unique opportunity for pre-kindergarten through college-level teachers and informal educators to participate in research cruises that provide valuable insight into oceanic and atmospheric research, work alongside world-renowned NOAA scientists, and become a part of a network of extraordinary teachers across the country.

In 2011, the Teacher at Sea Alumni Association (TASAA) was created, in partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, to continue to support and connect teachers who have participated in the Teacher at Sea Program. To become part of TASAA, teachers who have sailed must write blog posts while at sea, create lesson plans, and give presentations based on their research experiences during the Teacher at Sea program. At present, TASAA has over 300 active alumni from across the country. TASAA extends the Teacher at Sea program by providing alumni the opportunity to connect and collaborate with a network of teachers from all grade levels and subject areas. TASAA also provides alumni with opportunities where they can learn from each other, receive information about grants and partnerships, attend regional workshops and conferences, and potentially participate in another Teacher at Sea research cruise.

Three adult women standing in front of poster board presentations and having a conversation.

Teacher At Sea Alumni Association Workshop, Southwest Region, 2017 in La Jolla, CA. Photo: Ryan Hawk/TASAA

Since 2011, TASAA has hosted nine, multi-day workshops for regional alumni. During these workshops, alumni have learned more about the NOAA resources in their home areas, networked with other regional alumni and learned more about their unique experiences and how they’ve used those experiences in their classrooms, and participated in hands-on workshops to learn content that can be adapted to their classrooms.

These regional networks extend nationally when alumni are brought together at National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) conferences to support NOAA’s Office of Education exhibit booth. Since 2005, over 300 alumni have supported the NOAA booth at NSTA.

This year, due to COVID-19, teachers have had to venture into uncharted waters and have been challenged to use their ingenuity to turn their in-person classrooms into remote learning environments. Recognizing the difficulty of transitioning to a world of virtual learning with few resources to do so, TASAA rose above the tides to help their alumni obtain resources and stay connected during these challenging times. One of the most impactful ways TASAA is helping alumni during the pandemic is by providing immediate support to teachers through supply grants and networking opportunities. This year, TASAA provided funding to more than 55 teachers to purchase essential technology during a time of online learning including digital drawing tablets, webcams, and cell phone microscopes as well as other materials including at-home lab kits, home garden kits, and books.

TASAA continues to maintain the networking advantages of their program through a variety of virtual means. TASAA hosts a private Facebook group where alumni share resources and participate in “learning units” about the best practices they’ve used to transition to online learning.  In May 2020, TASAA facilitated a webinar on citizen science presented by a Teacher at Sea alumnus. Following that, alumni could join a group citizen science project on the iNaturalist platform and record observations as a group. On October 31st, TASAA hosted the inaugural Great Lakes and Great Plains Regional Meeting–virtually, of course! TASAA is also sponsoring 40 educators to attend either the virtual NSTA or ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) fall conferences this year, in which they will learn “just-in-time” strategies for online education as well as other relevant topics.

A Zoom meeting with adults wearing Halloween hats in various marine themes.

Teacher at Sea Alumni Association’s 2020 Great Lakes and Great Plains Virtual Regional Meeting, credit: TASAA

“Teacher at Sea Alumni are such amazing and committed educators. They are at sea for two to three weeks, working 12-hour shifts alongside scientists, seven days a week, and living in tight quarters,” said Britta Culbertson, Teacher at Sea Alumni Association Manager. “That shared experience creates a bond that carries into a collaborative network of innovative educators who are eager to engage their students and are always on the lookout for authentic learning experiences. Teacher at Sea is an amazing springboard and we’ve seen time and time again how alumni are able to build off that experience and connect and grow together. We’ve seen that especially now during the pandemic, where alumni are sharing their online teaching experiences and supporting each other with their ideas on everything from surviving online teaching to building DIY document cameras.” 

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, TASAA is committed to continuing to support Teacher at Sea alumni by maintaining a strong, collaborative alumni network and by helping teachers to secure resources and materials that will enable them to share what they learned at sea, to expand on it by incorporating additional NOAA resources, and to create engaging and authentic learning experiences for their students.

Meet the 850+ Teacher at Sea Alumni here and learn how the journey is just the beginning for Teachers at Sea in this short video.