Princeton University offers summer workshop for teachers

On a hot summer day you might find yourself relaxing at the beach, especially if you’re a student on vacation. But have you ever asked yourself whether it takes longer for the sand or water to heat up? Some teachers are spending their break trying to find the answer to that question. It’s an exercise to show how the ocean can influence climate in a particular region.

“The ocean is a very important factor because it’s so massive and can hold a lot of heat, for example, compared to the atmosphere. It has a very long-term effect. It also is a place where some of the chemicals that are involved in the atmosphere that can affect climate can be either produced or stored,” said Steven Carson, an instructor in the Quest program and a middle school teacher himself.

Districts across New Jersey selected teachers to participate in the Quest program at Princeton University.

“It’s an opportunity for the professors to disseminate their current research so that the teachers know what’s the most important new information,” said Anne Catena, director of professional development initiatives at Princeton, and director of the Quest program.

Quest started 30 years ago and at the time it focused on elementary school teachers but has since expanded and is offered to teachers grades 3 to 12.

It’s a way to enhance their knowledge of science and a chance to learn different skills to incorporate into the classroom. Teachers have even gone out with research scientists for a full week in field-based courses.

“That was down at Barnegat Bay. Primarily we were looking at the impact of Sandy on terrapin turtles and the nesting that goes on down in Barnegat Bay. We also had teachers up at Hawk Mountain. They were looking at how the vultures look for food and what senses do they use,” Catena said.

One sixth grade science teacher said when she first started participating in the program, she was an elementary school teacher and she wanted to feel more confident in the classroom.

“When you’re an elementary teacher you have a limited science background and the kids need more than that so this really, really helped,” Heidi Wachtin, a teacher at Thomas Grover Middle School, said.

She kept coming back year after year, taking courses ranging from astronomy, to weather and climate and geology.

“Steve has this big bottle, and he taught us about clouds and cloud formation where you pump air into this huge bottle and then when you release the air it’s just this instant cloud. And it just wowed us, so when I learned I got to teach weather to my students, I said they’re going to be so wowed by that, too,” Wachtin said.

Her students were impressed, and they wanted to understand how it worked, which opened the conversation to teach. That’s exactly what exercises like this one are designed to do.

Spoiler alert, it does take longer for the water to warm up than it takes the sand.

“That’s because more energy can be taken in by the water, so you have to input more energy to actually change the temperature. So if you’re in the coast you have milder winters and not as hot summers compared to out in the middle of the country where it gets much, much colder in the winter and it can get very hot in the summer, and that’s because the ocean that is near us is helping to moderate our temperature,” said Danielle Schmitt, lab manager for the department of geosciences at Princeton University.

Now these teachers are able to take that information to students all across the state.

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