Alumni Profile: Seeing Science Underseas

January 28, 2016

KnippenbergSpartan grad boosts learning through firsthand research experience

By Nicole Geary

As remotely operated vehicles descend deep into the water, followers tuning in from all around the world can watch a blue screen fade to black and then, suddenly, see the ocean floor getting closer. They might see hydrothermal vents, underwater mountains or an unknown animal species. Chances are, it’s a place no human has ever seen before.

“We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the ocean floor,” says high school science teacher and Spartan graduate Lindsay Knippenberg. She spent part of last summer narrating live webcasts of exploratory dives while on duty aboard the Exploration Vessel (EV) Nautilus—a ship led by Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard.

It was her latest adventure in a career spent mixing research with teaching, and literally showing students how much scientists still have to discover.

“A lot of times, science is taught almost like a history class. It’s not so much about the scientific process and everything we don’t know,” she said.

Adventures in educating

Knippenberg began her teaching career after earning her B.S. from Michigan State University’s Lyman Briggs College and her secondary teaching certification from the MSU Teacher Preparation Program in 2003.

Always looking for experiences beyond her own classroom, she applied to become a science communications fellow on the EV Nautilus through the Ocean Exploration Trust, which runs the ship. Like an on-board educator, the job involves facilitating live interactions with schools, science centers and aquariums from around the world about the crew’s underwater expeditions and findings. She actually did the fellowship twice: first for two weeks off the coast of the British Virgin Islands in September 2014, then in 2015 as a lead fellow for six weeks near the Galapagos Islands.

Back on the mainland, Knippenberg is a National Board Certified teacher of earth, environmental and marine science in her fourth year at Mooresville High School in North Carolina. She came from Washington, D.C., where she spent two years as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator advising the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about education. She also joined a research expedition in Antarctica during the course of her first teaching position at South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores, Mich.

Knippenberg is committed to opening doors to learning—both for the public and for the next generation. From each extra-professional experience, she returns to the classroom with a more amazing collection of stories, pictures and lesson plans to share.

“A lot of kids feel disconnected from the ocean, and from careers in science,” she said. “I want to show them, as a teacher, I can be a scientist. I can leave this small town and there is so much to experience.”

A successful start

Along with her regular classes, Knippenberg teaches robotics to first-graders, helping them create mini versions of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) like those used by the Nautilus. She also aspires to become a leader in the North Carolina science education community.

She says her commitment to ambitious teaching started at MSU. The faculty members there showed her how to teach science through student-led projects, not rote memorization.

“One of my passions is project-based learning and trying to get new teachers to incorporate that to better engage their students,” Knippenberg said.

“Everyone I was in the program with at MSU … there was this general consensus that you want to be the best teacher you can be. And I can see now that I was way more prepared than other teachers. Starting out on a good foot has led me to be successful since then.”

Photo gallery

Photos courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust.

On the web

The ship

EV Nautilus and live video feed:

The fellowship

Ocean Exploration Trust:

Lindsay Knippenberg

On Twitter: @sciencewithMsK