Trailblazing teacher takes science instruction to national stage at Smithsonian

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Science teacher Dana Clark is an education trailblazer. She’s traveled the world in search of knowledge to bring back and share with the students in her classroom at Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School where she’s taught for 10 years.

Clark has studied sea turtles in the Amazon of Peru, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, to study climate change, and this summer helped to map the seafloor around Alaska as part of a seafaring expedition sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The adventurous teacher says she enjoyed every moment and that she’s used the experiences to enliven her science instruction and inspire her students to get out and explore the world.

In December, the globetrotting teacher took another trip, this time to the nation’s capital at the invitation of the NOAA, the federal agency that measures and monitors the nation’s climate, weather, oceans and coasts, and protects and conserves natural resources. She spoke at the “Expert Is In” series at the Smithsonian’s interactive science learning space, Q?rius, housed in the National Museum of Natural History. The presentation focus: how scientists conduct hydrographic surveys using multibeam sonar to create nautical charts of the seafloor for safe navigation and to discover shipwrecks, extinct volcanoes, and more.

Clark spent days conducting the surveys last summer as one of 29 teachers on the crew of the NOAA research ship, Fairweather, charting the Alaskan seafloor in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program. The hands-on learning opportunity allows educators to experience science firsthand in aquatic settings around the globe. Clark’s shared her shipboard experience in daily posts to her online blog.

Aside from being inspired by the beauty of the area around Seward, Alaska, Clark said the major takeaway of the 11-day expedition was an incredible learning experience that has enriched her knowledge of marine biology, knowledge she has brought to the classroom.

“The earth is so dynamic. It constantly changes,” said Clark. “Alaska is on the edge of two tectonic plates, so there’s a lot of movement, which creates all the volcanic activity.”

Volcanic activity is one of the objectives of study this semester in her sixth- and eighth-grade science classes. “It’s incredible to be able to show the students what we see underwater on the seafloor when we map it. We discovered a shipwreck that had been down there 40 or 50 years that no one knew was there. On another day,” she said, “members of the crew sighted a large known rock that was supposed to be way below the sea surface, but the seafloor had risen so much, we found it was right below the surface.

I’m all about real life learning using real life data. I bring back data and we analyze it and draw conclusions,” she said. “I want to bring science alive. For science, you have to get out in the world and experience. A lot of students haven’t been out of Dallas or been able to experience science in the world.”

There’s proof that Clark’s globetrotting experience gathering is paying off for her students. She’s had several students graduate and return to tell her she inspired them to pursue majors in science. “I have a student who graduated last year who is studying marine biology at a university in Hawaii.” Another student who successfully completed a college geology class credited Clark’s teaching for helping her pass the course. To be able to do that for even one student inspires Clark to keep traveling and collecting experiences to share with her students.

“I want them to understand there’s more than Dallas Texas, that we’re connected worldwide by technology and by the environment. And to get out and explore the world and experience different cultures and the nature that’s so different and ever-changing. Every day, there’s something in the news and something new going on in the world of science. To bring that science alive to them is what inspires me. “

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