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Ketchikan students learn sea skills

Posted: May 26, 2014 - 11:00pm

KETCHIKAN — The Ketchikan School District’s 45-foot training boat Jack Cotant is getting a workout during the spring, but a recent trip to Petersburg was a new adventure.

Maritime teacher Rick Collins, ocean science teacher Julie Landwehr and Director of Distance Education and online teacher Mark Woodward took eight students from Kayhi on a multi-day trip to Petersburg and back, leaving Ketchikan on April 23 and returning April 27.

Collins said multi-day maritime trips were common in the 1980s, and he has taken students to Misty Fjords National Monument, but this was the first to Petersburg.

It was the first multi-day trip for Landwehr as well.

“I was really nervous going into this because going on a boat with a bunch of students for nearly a week was really daunting,” Landwehr said. “I spent a lot of time getting ready for it, and it was a lot of work, but it was really rewarding. It was a lot of fun to teach hands-on in the ocean.”

Landwehr said she prepared nearly 72 hours of curriculum for the students, including real-time, hands-on experiments in ocean acidification, collecting plankton tows, reading “Cannery Row” written by John Steinbeck, and keeping a science journal that incorporated art and sketches into recording observations.

“I really enjoyed seeing what they did with their journals,” Landwehr said. “We saw porpoises and we talked a lot about things as we went. The journal was one part that I thought sunk in really well.”

Kayhi junior Keenan Sanderson said he had visited Petersburg as a member of the basketball team, but he liked seeing a different side of the town. He particularly enjoyed learning about stream surveys from a U.S. Forest Service
ranger.

“That’s not necessarily marine biology, but it was another little thing that was pretty cool,” Sanderson said, adding that he had left his rubber boots on the boat and had to slog through the muskeg barefoot so as not to lose his shoes in the muck.

Micah Briola, a junior, said she enjoyed doing the plankton tows because it involved learning how to use new
equipment.

“We learned how to use a flow meter, which we had seen before, but we can’t use it on the dock,” Briola said.

Collins said the trip was a good opportunity to reflect on things that were going well in the classroom and things that need improvement, but that wasn’t his favorite part of the voyage.

“Me winning at Yahtzee,” Collins laughed, saying that winning was his favorite part of the trip. “We played Yahtzee in the cabin and I had never played it before. I won the second game.”

He also counted seeing the plankton collected in plankton tows “zooming around” on a computer screen hooked up to a generator-powered microscope as a highlight of the trip.

“It’s a long trip so that means a lot of missed school days,” Collins said. “The flip side is it’s an awesome opportunity for the kids.”

Woodward said he handled trip logistics, such as preparing meals, coordinating with the Petersburg harbor master, and arranging flights for students who wouldn’t make both legs of the journey.

Eight students from Kayhi went north on the Jack Cotant. Upon arrival, four flew home and four returned on the boat. The crew welcomed two maritime students from Petersburg for the return to Ketchikan.

Collins said he was surprised other communities around the state don’t have designated maritime programs, and especially in Petersburg where “they have a huge fishing fleet, and they’re very much about maritime and the water. I think it would be a natural fit for them.”

Collins said if Ketchikan is able to do visit other communities — such as Wrangell, Thorne Bay or Craig — on future trips, it might encourage maritime program development in the Southeast.

Kayhi student Trevor Wutzke went on the trip as both a maritime student and an ocean sciences student. During the trip north, Wutzke helped plot the course through Wrangell Narrows.

“It was scary at first, because you’re doing it by yourself and (Collins) just stands up top and makes sure you don’t do anything wrong,” Wutzke said. “You definitely learn a lot faster from it.”

Wutzke said the trip and getting hands-on experience added meaning to some of the things he learned in class.

Collins likened the experience to learning how to snow ski and said if a person skis four separate days through the season, they are likely to improve a certain amount. But if that person skied four days in a row, they would improve at a much faster rate.

“It’s the same when you live on a boat,” Collins said. “When you immerse yourself in it, and get comfortable in your surroundings, you pick up a lot more things. So those overnight, longer trips are a good thing.”

Woodward said the students were able to have experiences on the boat that they wouldn’t have had in the classroom. He said that while the group was moving up Clarence Strait on the first day, the students were working with Landwehr on an ocean acidification experiment.

“All the sudden, the kids took off with their own questions, and they started finding their own answers, and seeing that in action, while on a boat in Clarence on a bluebird day with whales nearby . I was just thinking to myself, ‘We should do more of this,’” Woodward said.

Woodward recounted a similar circumstance on the return trip that involved pulling up crab and sea stars in crab pots.

“The kids started asking all these questions about sea stars while they are physically holding the animals,” he said. “You cannot get that kind of education in a classroom.”

Woodward said he sees potential for incorporating more technology while exploring nature in future trips.

“I see visions of us doing that, but with a portable Wi-Fi system on the boat so we could be interacting with kids all over the U.S. and going live,” Woodward said. “I think we can do that.”

Originally, the trip was scheduled to take six days, but news of foul weather moved the timeline forward a bit, and the group returned home a day early.

“We might not have made it back for four or five days if we hadn’t,” Collins said.

The trip was funded through a career and technical education grant from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

___

Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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