The Teacher at Sea Alumni Association formed in January 2011 to connect and support teachers who participated in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Across the country, there are more than 300 active Teacher at Sea alumni serving as NOAA ambassadors. This year, the association is helping teachers obtain resources and stay connected as they transition to virtual learning.
Becoming an Alum
The association is a partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. In order to be alumni, teachers must first sail on a research cruise as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. To be accepted into the association, teachers must give presentations, write blog posts, and create lesson plans based on their experiences at sea. Once the teachers become alumni, they can apply for grants and attend regional and national conferences on behalf of NOAA.
Alumni share NOAA resources and activities with the broader education community and encourage more teachers to apply to the Teacher at Sea Program. The Alumni Association also helps connect students with NOAA resources near where they live. Over the years, many teachers have invited NOAA scientists into their classrooms to talk to students about NOAA science and careers in STEM.
Teacher at Sea Alumni Association Manager Britta Culbertson said, “What’s cool about the Association is it allows for connection across regions and across different subject areas. The teachers all have a bond in the shared experience of being on the ship, but they’ve all had different research experiences, so they learn a lot about the variety of work we do and they’re able to share that with each other and their students."
Teacher at Sea ’19 Allison Irwin, who sailed on the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker last year, wrote of her experience at sea: “Every moment of the 3 weeks I shared with NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker piled on significant learning experiences. The most memorable were those moments that took me out of my comfort zone. My students deal with these issues every day, and I don’t think I fully appreciated their struggle until I entered into my own.”
“In those three weeks at sea, teachers become explorers,” Culbertson said. “They’re learning things that are new and exciting to them and they can’t help but bring that back to their students. At the same time, they’re gaining a better understanding of how we’re making decisions about fisheries, sustainability, endangered species, and more.”
Alumni Grants and Networking Opportunities
The Alumni Association also provides support to teachers through grants and networking opportunities. “This year we made smaller, quicker grants available,” Culbertson said. “We needed to respond immediately to teachers who needed help, so we asked them what we could do.”
Teachers requested funds to purchase supplies for use at home. They also set up social media groups and webinars to communicate virtually during the nationwide school shutdown. Around 25 teachers already received grants this year to purchase digital learning materials, tablets, webcams, at-home lab kits, mini-gardens, books, and tiny microscopes for cell phones. These will allow these teachers and their students to do hands-on science at home.
Staying Virtually Connected Is More Important Than Ever
Another important way the Alumni Association keeps the teachers connected is by bringing them together within their regions. These two-day online workshops provide the teachers the opportunity to meet each other and share their experiences. More importantly, they learn about NOAA science being conducted in their own communities. The Alumni Association will continue to provide the tools and resources necessary to foster greater connection between teachers, students, and their community.