Steamboat Mountain School teacher boards Alaska research ship |

Steamboat Mountain School teacher boards Alaska research ship

Steamboat Mountain School science teacher Nikki Durkan will be near Alaska aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson while scientists survey fish stocks in the Bering Sea.

— A Steamboat Mountain School science teacher takes off Thursday from the shore of Kodiak, Alaska, as a research assistant helping with a study of fish populations.

Nikki Durkan arrived on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, ship in Kodiak Tuesday morning and will live on the vessel for 20 days as part of the Teacher at Sea Program.

“This project was really exciting for me. I have a real passion for oceanography and marine biology, ever since I was a little kid,” said Durkan in an interview just after touring the Oscar Dyson ship for the first time Tuesday.

Durkan learned about the NOAA trip while searching for professional development opportunities for this summer.

“I want to be out doing research, because I’m a science teacher, so this program really appealed to me for that reason,” she said. “I’m an avid learner.”

Established 25 years ago, the Teacher at Sea Program allows teachers to gain first-hand experience participating in science while on the ocean.

While on the ship, Durkan will help researchers monitor the Alaskan pollock and other fish species, as well as assist with oceanography studies in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska.

Durkan teaches biology, geography, AP environmental science and global politics at Steamboat Mountain School, where she just wrapped up her seventh year.

When she returns to campus, Durkan will be able to use her experience to create lesson plans for her students.

“Through my experience with NOAA, my students will not only be able to learn first-hand about exciting research projects at sea, they will be witness to them, and on some level, participants in them. Making their learning relevant through my own hands-on experiences is vital to getting students excited about science,” Durkan said.

The project might resonate well with SMS students who spent the last year creating a functioning aquaponics system with tilapia fish. Durkan said water is pumped out of the in-ground tank to water grow towers, allowing fish excrement to provide nutrients for the plants, while water is filtered through the plants’ root systems and returned to the fish tank.

Durkan said she’ll continue to work on creating lesson plans to make the fish population relevant to students in land-locked Colorado.

“Taking this experience and bringing it back to the classroom is one of the goals of the program,” Durkan said.

Durkan will blog about her experience on the Oscar Dyson for the NOAA Teacher at Sea blog at*durkan/blogs.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow him on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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