Maywood science teacher Marla Crouch heads to sea

October 31, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Study of pollock provides classroom lessons

Contributed Marla Crouch, a Maywood Middle School teacher, handles a fish she’s never seen before, a lumpsucker, during her NOAA Teacher at Sea trip in June.

Marla Crouch, a Maywood Middle School teacher, handles a fish she’s never seen before, a lumpsucker, during her NOAA Teacher at Sea trip in June.

Maywood Middle School science teacher Marla Crouch is a morning person. She’s at her best waking up at the crack of dawn, preparing to greet the day as it comes.

So, imagine the challenge that came with a 12-hour, 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift she managed as a visiting crew member aboard the Oscar Dyson in Alaska, studying pollock, a type of a fish.

Staying up through the night was a big adjustment, she admits, but the experience of working alongside scientists through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea program was worth it.

“You get to look at science from a new perspective, which helps when it comes to teaching,” she said.

Crouch spent three weeks aboard the ship in June, helping crew members survey the Alaskan pollock. Pollock, a member of the cod family, is the most valuable fish crop in the world. Products made from the fish were valued at $1 billion in 2010, she said.

Along with the team of scientists, Crouch studied the fish’s population, age and gender. That meant helping with the nets to catch the fish, physically measuring them and studying sonar images.

One sonar image, depicting what is called Mystery Mix One, was of particular interest to the scientists, Crouch said.

Mystery Mix One is an image that shows up on the sonar screen at various places and times of year. Scientists know it’s a life form, but what exactly makes it up, they haven’t been able to identify.

When it first appeared during the cruise, crew members sent down a camera and saw a buildup of krill, Crouch said. Krill are normally too small to show up on the screen, but one scientist hypothesized that the krill’s consumption and gas production made it visible.

Mystery Mix One appeared yet again on a separate occasion, only this time, when the camera was sent down, several jellyfish appeared. So, as Crouch put it, Mystery Mix One, “is still a mystery.”

The discussion centered on the mystery was a fascinating one, though, Crouch said, because it was a demonstration of the scientific method in action.

“I thought that was just great because that’s the kind of conversations we try to get in the classroom,” she said. “It’s okay to disagree with each other, just state your evidence.”

The weather wasn’t always cooperative during the survey, Crouch said. High wind speeds and 12-foot swells made for quite the choppy cruise. Luckily, Crouch’s room was in the center of the ship, where she didn’t feel the brunt of the weather.

Still, Crouch likened the experience to living on a seesaw, and the ship’s captain had to scramble to find places where the crew could work effectively, sheltered by expanses of land or mountains.

“It was in June so we were expecting summer or spring-type weather, and we got winter-type weather,” she said.

Crouch said she absorbed everything she could on the trip, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

One of the most valuable parts of the cruise, though, was getting a firsthand experience on what it takes to be a working scientist.

“It gives teachers a better understanding of what the expectations are so we can help our kids work toward those things,” she said. “We want to make our teaching meaningful and memorable for our students so they can apply today’s lessons in the future to solve problems.”

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