Shedd program gives science teachers a taste of marine research

While many teachers spend the summer relaxing or working second jobs, Jacquelyn McCanse expects to return to school this fall with some exciting lessons drawn from a week at sea on an environmental research ship.

McCanse, who teaches first grade at St. Benedict Elementary School in the North Center neighborhood, will spend part of this month snorkeling in mangroves and abandonded shipwrecks as part of a Shedd Aquarium program that will send 10 top area science teachers to the Bahamas to conduct research.

While aboard the Shedd's 80-foot research vessel, McCanse will study how acquatic life is affected by sandy and grassy environments.

“I’m hoping to get a really solid understanding of the marine life and ecosystem, so I’ll be able to teach my students in a way they’ll understand,” says McCanse.

The program is designed to give teachers hands-on research experience that they can use to get kids excited about science, says Joy Kubarek-Sandor, a Shedd program manager.

"Our mission is to really teach people about ... actually doing science," says Kubarek-Sandor.

Instead of lecturing to students from textbooks about distant ecosystems, teachers will be able to draw upon their own research experience, she says.

To prepare for the excursion the teachers took marine biology classes at the Shedd.

Ann Zartman, a sixth-grade teacher at Hibbard Elementary School in Albany Park, says the classes helped her get a grasp on the environment she’ll soon see.

“We had a very full introduction to the concepts of the aquatic life,” says Zartman.

So far, McCanse says, “It’s been an awesome, awesome experience."