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Educator, Student Reflect on Learning Experience as Jason Argonauts

August 22, 2015

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Arnold Middle School teacher Adam Schmidtendorff, left, and Cypress Creek High School freshman Elaine Pham were among a select group of JASON Argonauts who traveled to the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas in July 2015. (Photo courtesy Patrick Shea/JASON)

Aug. 10, 2015—A CFISD student and educator recently returned from the trip of a lifetime as Student and Educator Argonauts for a scientific expedition this summer through Chevron’s JASON Learning program.

Cypress Creek High School incoming freshman Elaine Pham and Arnold Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade science teacherAdam Schmidtendorff were among a select group of Argonauts who traveled to the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas in July 2015.

While there, they participated in an intensive hands-on research experience with resident and visiting scientists engaged in a diversity of marine science projects. The Argonauts spent their days on exciting outdoor excursions such as cliff jumping into the Atlantic, joining interactive field educational lessons, exploring the wide range of the island’s scenic bodies of water and documenting their experience on blogs and social media for other students in the community to follow.

“My favorite experience was jumping into waist-deep water with sharks to hold the boat,” Schmidtendorff said. “With them at times in arm’s reach as they swam around was a rush and educational at the same time.”

Schmidtendorff said that he and Pham both gained a better understanding of who is conducting new research in the field.

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Arnold teacher Adam Schmidtendorff and Cypress Creek student Elaine Pham examine a sea creature during their Chevron-sponsored research trip to The Bahamas. (Photo courtesy Patrick Shea/JASON)

“The biggest thing both I and Elaine noticed about the researchers was their age, with most of them in their early 20s,” Schmidtendorff said. “Students think you have to be old, have a Ph.D. and work for a university. Seeing this brought home the reality to students that what they were doing for a week they could be doing in a few years as a job they love for a lifetime.”

Pham, who called the trip the “best time of [her] life,” said she gained new perspectives about STEM education.

“STEM does not mean just doctors or computer specialists—it describes every job, because everything involves science, technology, engineering and math in one way or another,” she said. “In the short week spent with my fellow JASON Argos, I’ve learned and experienced so much compared to an ordinary classroom—including sustainability, preservation and punctuality. The Argo group I traveled with was as close to me as family. I’ll definitely make sure to continue my practices and share the wealth of knowledge I’ve learned there with many others in the future!”

Eleven teams of student and teacher Argos from the Houston area joined JASON Learning as part of a collaborative public-private partnership underwritten by Chevron looking to help the metropolitan community develop a sustainable and systematic solution to the need for high-quality effective science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

The JASON curriculum was unveiled in CFISD beginning in 2013-2014, the result of a nearly $250,000 grant from Chevron.

“Chevron's partnership with the JASON Learning is an extension of our overall commitment to supporting STEM education in public schools,” said Joni Baird, Chevron public affairs manager. “A major focus of Chevron’s education initiative is getting students, parents and teachers excited about STEM by applying real-world applications, such as JASON’s National Argonaut program. A strong STEM education is critical to U.S. global competitiveness, to our ability to create good jobs and to our overall economic growth of our community.”

The Argonaut adventure will offer continued learning activities for the CFISD student and educator in the classroom.

“This experience brings home the fact that science is in reach for all students from small-scale aquaculture labs that can be set up in the classroom to touch tanks provided by our Science Resource Center,” Schmidtendorff said. “As I talk about my adventure, lessons are developed, and additional teachers and students will have the opportunity to become Jason Argo alumni. This could dynamically change how science is approached in Cy-Fair.”

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The Argonauts’ research trip to The Bahamas was both educational and fun, as evidenced by Elaine Pham’s leap into the water. (Photo courtesy Patrick Shea/JASON)

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