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UW Lab School Conducts Educational Outreach Remotely Aboard Research Vessel

April 16, 2019
woman and man looking at screen
Theresa Williams, a UW Lab School middle school teacher and the designated “Teacher at Sea” aboard the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson, and Jurgen Koepke, co-chief scientist, reach out to elementary school students in Germany via a ship-to-shore broadcast. Williams and Michael Cheadle, a UW associate professor of geology and geophysics, headed educational outreach efforts aboard the vessel during a five-week research cruise that explored the Marion Rise in the Indian Ocean. (Michael Cheadle Photo)

This winter, Theresa Williams has provided educational outreach to Wyoming schools and beyond -- from a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Williams, a middle school teacher at the University of Wyoming Lab School, gained her teaching sea legs and was known as the “Teacher at Sea” aboard the University of Washington’s research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson.

Michael Cheadle, a University of Wyoming associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, was asked to head outreach aboard the vessel, which is exploring the geology of the Marion Rise, a major but poorly understood rise -- hundreds of miles wide -- in the sea floor topography. Researchers studied and compared it to the better-known Icelandic Rise on the Atlantic Ridge. The science team was multinational, with researchers from the United States, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom. A second German-led cruise will follow next year.

During the voyage, which ran from Feb. 21-March 28, Williams sent periodic updates through “ship-to-shore” research broadcasts. During the first week of the research cruise, outreach broadcasts were shared with five groups of students, including 23 college students from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom; 54 fifth-graders from New York; and 99 Wyoming students in grades 1-8.

“When we broadcast to colleges, Dr. Cheadle begins with a talk about the science. After questions and answers, we do a tour of the ship,” Williams explains. “I start the school broadcasts with a tour of the ship, followed by questions and answers about the ship and life onboard. Next, I give a slide show about the scientific equipment we’re using and the basics of the science. This is followed by more questions and answers. We always include information about our location on Earth and why this place was chosen for exploration.”

Each presentation is different depending on the needs of the students, she says.

“We have four weeks of broadcasts to go and expect to speak with students from UW, Laramie elementary schools, Green River, Converse County rural schools, Powell and the virtual school in Wyoming,” Williams relayed from sea during the early stages of the journey. “Outside Wyoming, we expect to speak with students from Wisconsin, Florida, California, Missouri and Minnesota in the U.S., as well as students from Germany, China and Indonesia.”

During the third week of the cruise, Williams says the outreach team talked to 12 college students and faculty in Florida; 160 middle school students in Indonesia; and 73 middle school and 42 elementary school students in Wyoming. 

In addition to the broadcasts, Cheadle maintained a cruise website at www.marionrise.org, where followers were kept up to date on what was happening aboard the ship. Williams, acting as the ship’s mascot, dubbed “Slackjaw Sally,” wrote a daily blog to explain some of the science in a student-friendly way. 

model sailboat at sea
Sacred Heart Star of the Sea, a small vessel built by students at Sacred Heart School in Kingston, Mass., is launched from the research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, during March. (Michael Cheadle Photo)

Once the ship reached its research site, the educational outreach team submerged some Styrofoam cups -- decorated by students from the UW Lab School -- in water to see what would happen to the cups. Due to water pressure, the cups shrank. The “before and after cups” were shown as part of one of the broadcasts.

The educational outreach group also launched the drifter Sacred Heart Star of the Sea, built by students at Sacred Heart School in Kingston, Mass. But not without some weather difficulty. The plan was to initially launch the small craft March 18, but the seas proved too rough.

“We almost launched the little boat, but the weather turned bad,” Williams says. 

However, the weather eventually cleared, and the Sacred Heart Star of the Sea was launched under calm seas and sunny skies March 22.

Then, it was back to putting out more educational broadcasts.

During the fourth week of the cruise, the educational outreach team spoke to 43 college students and faculty in Germany, Mississippi and Florida; 20 high school seniors in Wyoming; 61 middle school students in Indonesia; 16 fifth-grade students in Texas; and 138 kindergarten students in California.

“That brings our total to 955 people so far,” Williams said as the trip was drawing to a close. “We have three broadcast days left.”

“Theresa was amazing. She found all the schools we broadcast to; ran the technology involved; wrote the Slackjaw Sally blog; and even put up with me,” Cheadle jokes. “Her goal was to share what it’s like to live on a ship; provide information about different jobs; and help people understand the basics of the science.”

To follow the progress of the Sacred Heart Star of the Sea, go to www.educationalpassages.org/boats/starofthesea/.

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