Tennessee teacher introduces ocean-themed lessons to students in a landlocked area

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Growing up in Panama City, Florida, Devon Jones always felt drawn to the sea.

“During my early years, I lived on or near the water,” Jones recalled. “I used to say, ‘I don’t have friends, I have fish.’

“Weekends and summers were spent in Mexico Beach, [Florida], so water was my backyard.”

After relocating to Fort Campbell, Tennessee, due to her military spouse and family commitments, Jones had to set aside her aspiration of being a marine biologist. Nevertheless, she found her passion in teaching sixth-grade science, allowing her to share her love for the ocean with her students.

Having taught for 15 years, Jones is based at Kirkwood Middle School in Clarksville, an area in Montgomery County where many students have little exposure to the ocean.

This upcoming fall presents a unique opportunity for Jones to inspire her students about the sea. The Ocean Exploration Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to ocean exploration and integrating discoveries into STEAM education, named her as a 2024 Lead Science Communications Fellow.

Jones will embark on a 26-day journey aboard Exploration Vessel Nautilus in late September and early October. The expedition, her second, will focus on exploring and mapping the seafloor around Howland and Baker islands in the Pacific. The voyage will commence in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and conclude in Koror, Palau.

While on board, Jones, one of the 13 fellows selected nationwide this year, will lead live daily audio commentary and interactive Q&A sessions via the Nautilus Live website. When ashore, she will utilize Google Classroom and other educational tools to engage global communities and students.

Jones recently shared insights on her teaching approach with Tennessee.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What excites you about teaching ocean science to middle schoolers?

Being in Tennessee, far from the coast, I have the opportunity to introduce my students to a world they rarely encounter. I enjoy captivating them and linking curriculum topics back to the ocean because we are all interconnected in some way. I want students to explore what lies beyond and realize that continual learning is the key.

Why do you focus on sixth grade?

Initially teaching fourth and fifth grades, I felt a surge of enthusiasm for the middle school science curriculum. Transitioning to teaching sixth grade science allowed me to make a significant impact. I adore working with this age group due to their curiosity and inquisitiveness. They constantly ask questions, and I illustrate how their learning directly impacts their daily lives.

Which lesson do you enjoy teaching the most?

One of my favorite topics is biodiversity and human impact. During a dive on a reef in the 2023 expedition, we came across something familiar, which turned out to be trash. By dating a Pepsi can from 1980, we showcased to the students the lasting effects of litter and its environmental impact. While disheartening, this moment served as a valuable teaching opportunity. I strive to help them comprehend their influence on the ecosystem and how they can contribute positively to change.

Describe your role on the upcoming expedition.

I will guide fellow teachers experiencing their first expedition. They will interact with schools globally using telecommunication, offering virtual tours of the ship and linking students to the ROVs exploring the ocean floor. Crossing the International Date Line, we will map uncharted sections of the ocean floor to uncover new discoveries. The expedition presents an invaluable opportunity to introduce scientific exploration into classrooms and ignite a passion for the unknown among students.

Want to get kids excited about the ocean? With 26 days at sea, you’re certain to make a splash in the classroom!

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