Salish Sea Expeditions’ floating classroom aims to take the scary out of science
Salish Sea Expeditions, a local nonprofit, tries to make learning science fun, rather than intimidating, by bringing fifth- through 12th-graders aboard its floating classroom — on its research vessel that sails the Puget Sound.
Science can be scary. Its numbers, formulas and alien terminology intimidate hundreds of thousands of students into liberal-arts degrees each year.
Krystal Stewart, a 17-year-old senior at Mount Si High School, shied away from science after struggling to keep up with the avalanche of facts in her chemistry and biology classes.
She dreamed of becoming a nurse, but after seeing all the science classes she’d have to take, she began to doubt herself.
During the Puget Sound Student Science Symposium Friday at the REI store in Seattle, Stewart presented the results of a three-day research project she conducted with her class through Salish Sea Expeditions, a local nonprofit that tries to interest fifth- through 12th-grade students in science while aboard a floating classroom in Puget Sound area waters.
The experience made her realize, suddenly, that her difficulty wasn’t that she needed to be smarter to be a nurse — but that she’s a kinesthetic learner, which means she absorbs information best when she’s physically engaged in the process. Other people absorb information best visually, verbally or by hearing it.
Stewart now wants to follow through with her plans to become a nurse.
“Science is looked at as a noun,” said Stephen Streufert, the executive director of Salish Sea Expeditions.
“But it’s not — science is a verb.”
The nonprofit helps schools organize projects that follow three educational theories. Students learn best when they’re:
- Curious about what they’re studying
- Getting hands-on experience
- Aware of real-world applications of their research
Students in Salish Sea Expeditions are taught the scientific method. They pinpoint what they’re curious about, form a hypothesis, and then hop aboard a 61-foot sailing research vessel, where they learn to sail and camp for three to five days while collecting data.
The organization will start the program again in September. The cost is about $90 per student per day on the boat, including classroom introduction and follow-up. Some students pay on a sliding scale. Stewart and her classmates tested waters at different locations and depths near James Island, near La Push, and the San Juan Islands for phytoplankton and zooplankton, to determine where the higher concentrations were, she said.
“When people think about what a scientist is, we think lab coat, we think geek, we think taped-together glasses,” Streufert said.
Salish Sea Expeditions tries to show students that anyone can do science, and that it’s fun, he said. “You see their eyes open and they said, ‘This is science? This?’ And it opens up career doors.”
By the numbers
Fewer students are choosing hard sciences. Here is a breakdown of undergraduate degrees awarded in the United States, in a few selected fields of study:
- Degrees Amount
- Business-related degrees 317,391
- Social sciences 128,332
- Education degrees 107,238
- Health professions and related clinical sciences 91,973
- Biological and biomedical sciences 69,178
- Computer/information sciences 47,480
Source: The National Center for Education Statistics (with the U.S. Department of Education), 2005-6 (most recent data available)
Guerrero, Jean. “Salish Sea Expeditions’ floating classroom aims to take the scary out of science,” Seattle Times, Originally published June 6, 2009 at 12:00 am Updated June 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm.