Off The Grid

We’re off once again. Trying to contact me, or one of my little band of students, in the coming week will be next to impossible. We’ll be completely off the grid. We’ll be far from the pace that guides us in this country today. We’ll be far from conducting “school” in any traditional fashion. And we’ll be completely immersed. Completely immersed in the sea. Completely immersed in one of the most delicate ecosystems left on the planet. Completely immersed in learning.

You cannot know a coral reef from the dusty pages of a book. You cannot know a reef from a sleek and shiny laptop. To know the reef, you must enter the reef. And that is exactly what we’ll be doing until we return a week from now. Wish us safety and luck. Wish us blue skies. Wish the wind to gently nudge our sailboats to the next patch of coral. Wish my students the experience of their young lives.

Since I began writing this blog in 2008, the time between adventures with my Marine Biology students seems… compressed. It seems like we just returned from one of our Bahamian field studies. I’m pretty sure that’s a sign that I’m not getting any younger. Nor are my nerves any less frayed. I now spend a massive chunk of my days behind the screen of a computer, and that wears on you a bit at some level.

I need this week like my students need this week. Right now, I need to be off the grid. I need to step away from bits and bytes. I need to, wait… swim… away from the grind of rapidly moving an entire district into a 1-to-1 learning ecosystem. I need to swim to a place where I can think. I need to find renewed perspective. I’m betting I can do just that on a coral reef. I’ve done it before. In 1998 a similar experience helped me to understand not only the planet, but myself a little better. Here’s hoping the coming week does the same for a new crop of eager students…

Another Thousand “Whoa” Moments

Defining whoa

A whoa moment is somewhat akin to the recently ubiquitous aha moment. And yet, there are important differences. Trolling online definitions of the “aha” moment generally returns descriptions of sudden comprehension or the “flash of insight related to a problem.” If I could be trusted to launch my own five-cent definition, I’d loft the “whoa” moment for your consideration. Allow me to stitch together a few words in defense (offense?) of such an idea…

whoa moment |wō|

Informal in usage. Used to indicate a scope of reactions to a learning experience ranging from basic cognitive connection and mild surprise to profound respect and awe. Often uttered momentarily due to a lack of ability to define an experience at the time. Whoa moments often spur deeper future connections and learning along the original topic.

Some of these moments are certainly cerebral, but many others seem to originate deep within the limbic system. I challenge you to justify that sort of experience in today’s rather narrow description of learning. Benjamin Bloom roughly hammered out the Affective Domain of learning over fifty years ago. The affective domain is the domain of attitudes, motivation, and valuation of learning. As we move toward a more “national” definition of what should be learned, we rarely ever touch on anything beyond the cognitive domain. Even within the cognitive domain, consensus is tough to find. But really, when you can stuff so much of the cognitive domain into multiple guess questions, why bother with the rest? Characterizing the rest is just so… hard.

I’d suggest that whoa moments (beyond those of Bill & Ted fame) put the fringes of the affective domain, the elements of valuing… into something we can touch, taste, and marvel over. I’m not here today to hammer out a treatise on the whoa moment, and the value of immersion and authenticity in education. While that might be a worthwhile future endeavor, today I came here to share a bit of our recent Marine Biology field study on Andros Island in The Bahamas. This program was conceived back in 1999 and I have written about it here several times in the recent past. This was our seventeenth field study over the past twelve years, and like each of them, taught us all more than our share for one week.


Finding a rare snow white hermit crab married to a bleached out mollusk shell, watching a lowly flatworm attack and kill a nimble crab, exploring a multitude of minute creatures in a natural reef nursery, finding a completely new and hidden crack into the chilly belly of the Earth (the locale of which is too good to mention in detail here)…  are all just a few of the subtly epic moments that were experienced during a week abroad and in the field this past April.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you aim for whoa in every single granular learning objective that falls within your curriculum. And I’m certainly not suggesting that learning out-of-doors, in the field, suits every academic pursuit. I don’t think it has to happen everywhere, but I do believe it has to happen. Somewhere.


The world is an amazing place, and we live in amazing times. Big moments are all around us. Get on it.


Ready To Set Sail!

Just in time… guest bloggers!

We are less than a day away from our Marine Biology class field study on Andros Island in the Bahamas.  I am still waiting for students to come in to weigh their gear.  I still need to pick up a few last-minute items.  I still need to prepare to be perfectly (and wonderfully) off the grid for an entire week.  As hurried as I have been lately, I have done some fun preparation for this blog.  Since I cannot write for at least a week, two of my electronic pals have agreed to make a guest appearance in my absence!  Dr. Punya Mishra (of TPACK fame) and Stacy Baker (of Edublog Awards fame) will be taking the wheel.

Hoffman Cay anchorage

I don’t exactly know what they will be bringing to nashworld other than the typical insight and wit they spill forth in their own projects on a regular basis.  Stacy’s class blog was the 2008 Edublogs Award winner for “best class blog.”  Her insight on how to pull off this type of framework will certainly be valuable.  Along with Dr. Matt Koehler, Dr. Mishra is one of the co-developers of the TPACK framework.  Our school has begun to embrace the simplicity of the framework as well as the deep commitment it takes to move toward the “center” of the model.  I am convinced this framework will be more valuable as more of America realizes the need for true integration of technology into our current and future models of education reform.

We have a ton to learn from these two.  I am already excited to read what they bring to the site while I am away.  Did I mention that I still haven’t left yet?


Andros Island?

Without going into too much detail in my frazzled state, I will say that the reason for our choice of field station locale is simple.  Andros Island boasts what is said to be the third longest barrier coral reef in the world.  We will be on 45′ sailboats for seven days, snorkeling the reef, mangroves, sandflats, blue holes, etc.  Just a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida, Andros is an amazing and surprisingly remote place.

At nearly one hundred miles long, Andros is overwhelmingly the largest land mass in the Bahamas.  Nassau, the capital city, sits on New Providence island with over 250,000 inhabitants and is the bulk of the tourism target.  Andros, on the other hand, is large, flat and green with just around 8000 inhabitants.  This island is wonderfully and yet very strangely “backwoods” considering its proximity to the United States.

Until we return with our many fish tales, take a second to visit our class network or perhaps some of the images from our 2008 field study.  The Ning site is less than a year old.  It will be exciting to spill the journals, images, and videos of eighteen students onto that space when we return.  We stopped updating our crusty old static “Web 1.0” page back around 2003 or 2004.

elkhorn coral - Acropora palmata

Protecting living coral

That said, our crusty old static presence was still quite functional a few years back when I was contacted by a member of the Center for Biological Diversity about using some images from our site for an historic petition to list the first coral species under the Endangered Species Act.  Apparently, our images of the Andros reef chronicled the state of two threatened species of Caribbean-region corals quite nicely.  And of course, being a marine biology teacher, I have images that tell the entire “natural history” of the ecosystem as opposed to merely pretty pictures.


The petition that was prepared (by no means a typical “petition,” but instead a 111 page formal manuscript that takes patience to load) not only features one of my images on the cover, but is illustrated using mostly our images from the Andros reef.  Hey-  whoever said “Web 1.0” wasn’t much for education?  My students get a kick out of all of the international communication that happens as a result of our network, blogs, etc.  However, this one event in 2005/2006 stuck out like crazy at the time to my students of Saint Joseph, Missouri.

I suggest checking this document out.  If for no other reason than to see what something like this entails.  Well, that and…  the photos!  If you do check out the petition, slide all the way back to the “acknowledgments” on page 111.  It was pretty cool to see our little school district listed there so prominently on such a landmark document.  The real bottom line here:  this petition succeeded in getting both Elkhorn and Staghorn coral listed as threatened species under the ESA.  These are some of the only invertebrate species ever gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act.

So stay tuned for Punya & Stacy…  and a ton of news from the reef!

sailing over elkhorn


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