CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A group of Texas teachers ditched their textbooks for a week of hands-on field science experience during the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s first-ever Coast to Classroom Teacher Expedition, a unique workshop pairing teachers with scientists to explore south Texas’ diverse coastal environments.
“Our kids know more about coral reefs and the rainforest than they know about the Texas coast,” said Jay Tarkington, Outreach Program Director with the TAMU-CC Center for Coastal Studies, who managed the workshop. “A big part of this expedition was to get these teachers out into the field to highlight our Texas coastal wetlands. We wanted to show these teachers environmental changes along the Texas coast, but we also want to provide them with educational materials, things that can help them when they return to school in the fall.”
The goal of the Coast to Classroom program is to provide Texas science teachers with an opportunity to work one-on-one with coastal scientists in the field. The teachers began their five-day journey in Freeport, Texas, in the early morning hours of Monday, June 22, and traveled down the coast, stopping in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Port Aransas and the Laguna Madre for field science and lectures on Texas natural history. The trip gave teachers a first-hand view of South Texas’ diverse coastal environments, including its bays, estuaries, tidal inlets and wetlands. Teachers went birding, kayaking, collected water and sediment samples, and analyzed water quality.
Rachael Diaz, a high school science teacher with Dr. M.L. Garza-Gonzalez Charter School in Corpus Christi, said that despite living only a short distance from the Gulf of Mexico, many of her students have never seen it.
“I definitely see the need to take our children into the estuaries to experience them firsthand,” Diaz said. “Exploring the coast and learning how the individual environments connect, teaches you how important they are.”
Speakers joined the cruise to address coastal geology, history, water quality, sea level changes, marine industry, and law. The teachers also learned about a variety of coastal habitats, including the salt marsh, mangroves, sea grasses, tidal flats and the benthic communities living in the sediment. Dr. Richard A. Davis, visiting HRI professor, served as lecturer-in-residence.
Along with their scientific guides, teachers engaged with science curriculum expert Dr. Mary Ann Davis to take what they learn in the field and apply it to their classrooms. Davis, a certified teacher with a doctorate in science education and a master’s in Marine Botany from the University of South Florida, provided teachers with a set of science tools and resources that they could bring back to their home schools to get students engaged with the coastal environment.
Davis hoped that a unique, hands-on experience would infuse enthusiasm back into burned out teachers who had recently exited the classroom after a long school year, and only have a short break before they delve back into lesson planning for next year.
“These teachers have been working all year and they’re mentally exhausted,” Davis said. “After taking this cruise, they are energized and excited to be working on new lesson plans to get ready for the fall. And they’re hooked into a new network of teachers both on and off the coast that they can draw on as resources.”
Gillian Domingue, a 7th grade life sciences teacher at Cade Middle School in Victoria, Texas, said she was looking for a summertime professional development workshop that would help bring new activities to her classroom.
“This seemed like a great way to bring the local and regional ecology to the forefront,” Domingue said. “If you can educate the children on the characteristics of their local environment, they’ll learn to take better care of it, and protect it.”
The 2015 Coast to Classroom Teacher Expedition was made possible by the Ed Rachal Foundation.