Professionals Make Science Real for Students
Lessons Meet Life for Budding Scientists
Posted on 07/16/2016
Cookie eating contest on a submarine
A student tour of the USS Henry M. Jackson included a cookie challenge in the galley between Brownsville principal Toby Tebo, left, and Chief of Boat for Blue Crew Scott Payfer. (Photo courtesy of USS Henry M. Jackson)

Graphic: Next Gen Science Instruction How does a submarine float and dive?

The answer comes easily to sailors aboard the USS Henry M. Jackson, but not as easily to third graders. That’s why members of the USS Henry M. Jackson’s Blue Crew were a welcome addition to Melissa Payfer’s Brownsville classrooms.

The sailors visited weekly as students learned about density, buoyancy and other engineering concepts.

One sailor achieved near-superstar status by visiting almost every week. Kids asked him a ton of questions. 

Beyond Four Walls

“The kids get so excited that these real people are coming in to talk to them,” Payfer said. That kind of excitement has driven an effort to link more students with the people who use the science they study.

Professionals from Kitsap County Public Works, Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, and elsewhere all visited CK classrooms this year.

Making real-world connections is part of a greater shift in how schools teach science. Students learn to ask the same types of questions real-world scientists and engineers ask. They test ideas and use critical thinking skills to solve problems.

In Central Kitsap, this shift has also meant finding local ties for project-based lessons.

“The community is our classroom, not just the four walls,” said Doug Dowell, secondary STEM specialist. The USS Jackson crew’s involvement was one of the most in-depth.

Volunteer Crew

Teacher Melissa Payfer had described her lessons to her husband Scott Payfer, Chief of the Boat for Blue Crew. It was his idea to ask his crew to volunteer in the classroom.

“I hope it gives kids a vested interest in science,” said Scott Payfer. He also organized a tour of the USS Henry M. Jackson that got oodles of “wows” from 85 students and chaperones.

Small groups of students and chaperones walked with sailors through the sub. They described the squirt gun-like action of a torpedo launcher. They showed living quarters. They demonstrated how sailors could don an Emergency Air Breather in a minute.

“It’s been a great opportunity for my crew,” Payfer said. “It’s so cool to live that science with the kids and see them discover what we use every day.”

Back in the classroom, sailors also helped students build and test underwater vehicles. Not only did Melissa Payfer’s students get great role models, they also got expert answers to their questions.

“They had the background knowledge that we as teachers didn’t have,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing this without those guys, actually.”