All aboard: SFUSD teacher brings ship expedition to classrooms

Some high school students at San Francisco's public schools will have an unusual element added to their curriculum this fall — reliving a teacher's nearly three-week experience aboard a ship studying deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico.

But how does a ship expedition wind up in high school science classrooms?

Eric Lewis, a teacher on special assignment with the San Francisco Unified School District and former Mission High School teacher, returned from his second voyage aboard the 200-foot-long Nautilus on July 5 tasked specifically with that purpose.

Lewis, 41, spoke with The San Francisco Examiner about the expedition and how he plans to incorporate his experience into the classroom.

Tell me about your journey.

For about 2½ weeks, I was aboard Nautilus, which is the only exploration vessel in the world. Its charge is just to explore. I was lucky enough to go in and out of Gulfport, Miss., and travel about 2½ weeks on the Gulf of Mexico, looking at specifically deep-sea corals and how they've fared since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

How did you get involved with this?

Part of my job is to be looking out for cool resources for teachers, so I'm always sending emails to all the high school science teachers, for … activities and opportunities for them to get involved in. Just the idea of getting out into the sea, it is something this is so foreign from the day-to-day. I never was on a ship before going on Nautilus the first time.

When I was “on,” I was up in this control vent … on the very upper deck. When we're up there, we're getting questions live from across the world. You can hear our chatter in this control vent, those conversations are going live to the Internet: “What was that squid that we just saw?” “What spiders live 2,600 meters below the surface of the water?”

How do you plan to bring what you learned into classrooms in San Francisco?

I get to go see lots of different teachers and classrooms. Last year … I helped design a course for students at Mission High [that included] watching Nautilus live every morning with my students and having them get superexcited and asking questions into Nautilus live, and [speaking with] scientists and navigators and video engineers. It was fun for them.

So students really find this fascinating?

Oh, yeah, it's incredible. What's amazing is you're seeing something live that's never been seen before, or has been seen by so few people. … We have so much great technology in the schools right now that it's easy to bring up the website and have it streaming as kids come into a classroom. So getting them hooked that way is really great. …

One of the questions I always [got] on the ship is, “How rare is this coral?” And the reality is we have no idea. We know less than 5 percent of the sea floor. We know so much more about the surface of the moon and Mars than we know about our own ocean and sea.

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