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Rocking the Classroom from the Ocean

Originally appears in the Spring 2011 issue

The trip of a lifetime. Just ask the 16 educators who were my “shipmates” in the School of Rock. They, along with five instructors, an array of oceanographers and marine scientists, and a slew of engineers and crew—not to mention several hundred dolphins—made for an unforgettable and unmatchable experience. We spent approximately two weeks aboard the research vessel JOIDES Resolution (affectionately known as the “JR”), 50 miles off the shore of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, learning about scientific ocean drilling and why scientists study rocks and sediments far beneath the ocean floor. I learned way more than I had anticipated, not only from the scientists and instructors, but also from my amazing colleagues.

The School of Rock is a professional development opportunity for science educators from high schools, colleges and universities, museums, science centres and the like, to learn about ocean and earth science through immersion in a research environment. Deep Earth Academy, the education division of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), has been hosting the School of Rock since 2005. School of Rock 2010 was unique: instead of taking place during a transit between two expedition locales, we were on board during an actual research expedition. Most IODP expeditions last two months; this one was less than two weeks. The mission was to install an ACORK—an Advanced Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit—into a borehole. The ACORK will detect and record changes in the pressure and temperature of the earth for years to come. The process was intense, sending equipment up and down several times through a mile of water into a hole just inches across. The work went on 24 hours a day, so in between meals, School of Rock activities and sleep, it was common to find one or more of us perched on deck observing all of the action.

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Andrea Swensrud is a science education specialist at KQED Public Media in San Francisco, California.