BHS Teacher Ranks Salish Sea Expeditions as “the best educational experience that I’ve ever been able to provide my students”
Huddled in a circle at Eagle Harbor, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, 26 Bainbridge High School students passionately discussed their scientific conclusions when Mollie Caka, Salish Sea Expeditions’ Program Coordinator, asked what they learned.
“We learned we were wrong,” blurted our Amy Hamilton, a 17 year-old senior. “We weren’t wrong. We just weren’t right,” another student volleyed back.
Parents, waiting in the wings to pick up their children, marveled aloud at the energetic and honest answers from these young sailors and scientists who had just returned from a three-day sailing expedition aboard Carlyn, a 61-foot research vessel.
Las week, the BHS students participated in an innovative educational program with Salish Sea Expeditions. The Bainbridge-based nonprofit was founded to inspire a passion for exploring and respecting Puget Sound’s marine environment through hands-on scientific inquiry.
Stephen Streufert, Salish’s Executive Director, explained, “We believed that if we can engage students in real-world hands-on science and actively involve them in the design of their learning, they are more interested in the outcomes.”
Tom Armentrout, BHS Marine Science Teacher, agreed, “They did just that with the guidance of the Salish educators. The students crafted a careful hypothesis, organized themselves into sail or science groups and did the work. After three days, it was amazing. They completely owned the project.”
Since 1997, Salish Sea Expeditions’ science-under-sail program has combined classroom experience with three- to five-day research expeditions on the Sound. The BHS trip is one of nearly 30 that Salish will conduct in 2007. Over 75 percent of programs serve public schools; additional fundraising supports expeditions for low-income students.
Nick Baisley, a Marine Scientist with Salish, added, “One of the most important things you can learn in science is that you’re wrong. In this case, they largely disproved their hypothesis that plankton levels would vary with the changing geographic features under the surface, and discovered that Puget Sound is remarkably well mixed.”
“They could have read that same information from a text book, but there is something powerfully different about discovering it for yourself, first-hand.”
Gary Koller, a 17 year-old junior agreed. “Yeah, I’d much rather be out here. Sure, it’s nice to just not be in the classroom, but it’s so much more when everything is “hands-on” learning. In school you might read about how the ocean works, but out here the water surrounded us. Really, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was so much fun!”
Towards the end of each trip, the Salish staff turn as much responsibility as possible over to the students.
A chief scientist and captain are elected and students largely run the research operations, including raising the sails, navigating, collecting data and deploying scientific equipment.
Hannah Paradis, an 18-year-old senior, said, “Today we especially had to be really coordinated between scientists and the sailors with all the boat traffic on the water. I was elected to be captain. It was great. I felt really responsible.
Captain Kevin Campion remarked on another Hannah in the group, Hannah Bouchillon, who was elected chief scientist. “She was pretty quiet throughout the whole trip and then stepped up to this role. I think she won some fans in the class and with the staff. It was amazing to see her rise to that level of leadership and analysis with her group.”
“It was great,” Bouchillon said. “We had to rely on ourselves, just as real scientists do… I never imagined myself being able to lead a team of scientists.”
Armentrout believes this experience will help guide the coming academic year.
“I teach four sections of marine science and students from each section were part of this expedition. I have no doubt this “real world” science will generate a positive buzz in my classes. The genuine excitement and pride that goes with discovery, and self-discovery is such an important part of learning. I would rank Salish as the best educational experience that I’ve ever been able to provide my students.”
To see more images from the BHS trip and to learn more about Salish visit their website online at www.salish.org.
Salish Sea Expeditions programs are supported in part by Bainbridge Island’s One Call for All.
“BHS Teacher Ranks Salish Sea Expeditions as “the best educational experience that I’ve ever been able to provide my students,” Bainbridge Island Review, 2007.