About StB

The purpose of this project is to promote maritime nonfiction and ocean literacy - to blend art, history, science and geographic awareness in a multidisciplinary and engaging manner. Hopefully, teachers and adventure book lovers will find the material useful and keep these works alive.  I am a high school science teacher in New York State where I teach Regents Physics, AP Physics, Earth Science and Marine Science.  I have a masters degree in geology (Cretaceous palynology). Prior to teaching, I worked as an environmental consultant for eleven years.

The project started several years ago, but when I reflect, it has really been ten years in the making.  It began aboard the SSV Corwith Crammer.  I was selected as a teacher at SEA.  When I wasn't on watch, I read books from the ship's galley.  I stumbled upon Richard Henry Dana's ''Two Years Before the Mast''.  Like Dana, I was assigned to the forecastle. Unlike the crew of the brig Pilgrim all the teachers were treated very kindly.  The book resonated with me. I became immersed in the culture and the experience of learning the duties of a sailor.  We even sang sea shanties!  Reading Dana brought me back to early nineteenth century California.  His description of the period and people was mesmerizing.  I wasn't aware of maritime history, nor did I know about sailing around Cape Horn. It was an experience too rich to keep to myself.  How could this book not be required in high school history or English class?

During the cruise, as we approached Georges Bank I had an epiphany. Suddenly, I knew why the NSF was funding me to be out in the North Atlantic.  I was to return to my school district and develop an elective marine science course with a maritime literature component. When I got my land legs back, I set about choosing books, getting them approved by the school board, writing chapter assessments and incorporating the literature into an existing high school marine science curriculum. I had every belief that this was going to change the way my students would experience science. I introduced the following books:

The Secret Live of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson 
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

It didn't take me long to come to realize that most teenagers don't like to read big old books about the sea. One could say the wind was taken out of my pedagogical sails, but only temporarily.  I found that just a small percent of students loved to read. They would absorb details and eagerly participate in book discussions. But many wouldn't be prepared for the weekly quiz and showed little enthusiasm for linking the literature to the science curriculum.  

I needed to find a more enticing way to present the books - enter  Google Earth. Almost all students are familiar with Google Earth and can navigate through its menus far better than I. I thought it would be fun to introduce computer lab days based upon "Sailing Alone Around the World".  During the labs, I carefully monitored  student engagement and much to my dismay most of the boys were on the flight simulator. So I tweaked  the activities and included some volcano fly overs, with remote sensing type questions.  I also used historical imagery for students to interpret land development and learn about environmental issues.  I linked bathymetry to the oceanography curriculum.  Using the Google Earth Ocean layer I had students watch short videos about marine biology.  The activities in this project are a continuation of what I began in my course.  I have added primary source, classic books, that are well suited for geographical touring and have chosen Points of Interest (POIs) mentioned in the literature.  I have also used the books as threads that weave their way between past and present - between first hand historic accounts and satellite imagery.

The literary purest might argue that the students aren't really reading the book.  I would counter and say that the students are doing much more than simply reading.  They are reading the book in segments that are tied to a geographical location and then being encouraged to wander a bit.  Its similar to someone that looks up a word in the dictionary and in the course of locating that word stops at ten additional ones along the way. I believe that this method of presenting adventure books is an adventure in itself and is a good and sound way for students to come to know these classics and learn about the sea.

Here is a video where I gam about the project.