Middle School teacher studies sharks with NOAA

A teacher for Smith Middle School in Dearborn got the rare opportunity last summer to spend more than two weeks at sea searching for sharks with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“I’ve always loved sharks,” said art teacher Stephen Kade.  While attending professional development last year, he heard a session on teaching abroad that included information about the NOAA Teachers at Sea program.  Every year, 23 teachers are chosen to participate in the program.  They spend 19 days at sea helping the agency.

While Midwesterners think of NOAA for weather forecasts and alerts, the agency also studies the waters around America, and one department is dedicated to ocean fisheries.

Kade sailed along the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina helping catch, study and release sharks and other fish every day.  The crew had only two minutes to take all their measurements and samples and tag each shark before lowering it back into the water.  Crew members also deployed equipment that measured the marine environment including water temperature, salinity, and the depth and nature of the ocean floor.  The crew worked in 12 hour shifts.

“The best part about getting out there is as a teacher,” he said.  The sharks are nothing like what viewers see on Shark Week or in movies.  He got to see and to handle a variety of sharks including sharp nose, nurse, tiger, great hammerhead and sandbar.  Other animals he saw included bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphin, sea robin, toadfish, flying fish and jellyfish.

Already, he is sharing that experience with his Smith students and expects to make stops in other Dearborn Public School classrooms.  He also wrote a blog during his time aboard the boat and took pictures.  All that information is public at http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/2018/Stephen*Kade/ship.  Dearborn Schools has also added a video about Kade to the District YouTube Channel.  See the video at https://youtu.be/V-JsR_cB3Ho.

His blog also talks about wandering into Navy live ammunition exercises and rough seas.  While he never got seasick, he did feel land sick for days after the voyage as he struggled to readjust to solid ground.

“Any time I sat down, the room started moving,” he recalled.

“I always like to tell all my students that the world is a very large place, and we are a small part of that,” Kade said.  While issues like polluted oceans and declining shark populations may seem far away, there are similar problems closer to home including nearby waterways too polluted to eat the fish.

Kade was one of only two art teachers who have been selected for the Teachers at Sea program.  More often science or math teachers are included, but he felt he submitted a strong application showing how he has his art students combine paintings and research to educate other students about sea life and the threats some animals face.

“I am trying to create the next generation of marine biologists,” Kade said.  Kade himself worked for 20 years as a graphic artist before starting a second career as a teacher five years ago.  He has been at Smith two years.

Adding art to the sciences creates a visual component that can help people better understand, he said.

“There are many ways to learn.  Obviously, I think art is the best,” Kade said.

From his blog during the trip, “Never in my life did I think I would get an opportunity to do something like this as I’ve dreamed about it for decades, and now my dreams have come true. I’m learning so much about fishing procedures, the biology of sharks, navigational charting, and the science of collecting data for further study while back on land at the lab. I can’t wait to get home and spread the word about NOAA’s mission and how they are helping make the world a better place, and are advocating for the conservation of these beautiful animals!”