The Future of Learning: Found While Exploring the Past

Featured Image: Ashleigh Glickley captures images from the dive boat just before diving with the team of National Geographic Explorers.  Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live

Ashleigh Glickley, teacher from Hawthorne Spanish Immersion School in Louisville, KY, wrote this post.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” I reminded myself as we descended into the crystal blue waters off the coast of Maui in October of 2022.  It was only my 6th dive, having just received my PADI certification prior to the expedition, and I was still fighting the natural instinct of holding my breath as I sank deeper into the water. 

I looked out further into the blue, awaiting the shape of the sunken Hellcat airplane to appear before me, but before the wreck came into focus something else caught my attention.  It was a set of black and yellow fins, but rather than facing down towards the ocean floor, they were pointed straight up towards the sun as it was breaking through the water in ribbons of gold.  It took a minute to understand what I was looking at until I realized that they were the fins of Dr. Justin Dunnavant, maritime archaeologist and lead investigator of our team.  There was no emergency, he was just working upside down, weightless in the water and measuring tape in hand, he was floating above the engine of the Hellcat “stretching tapes,” which, in archaeology terms, is the process of using measuring tapes to precisely document every square inch of the wreck site.

Dr. Jason Raupp uses a GoPro to film footage that the team will use to create a 3D model of this Hellcat plane wreck back in the lab.  Photo by Dr. Jennifer Adler

The scene came into view and I noticed Dr. Jason Raupp, maritime archaeologist and professor at East Carolina University (ECU), working alongside Dr. Dunnavant and jotting down the dimensions of each measurement on a dive slate.  Dominic Bush, maritime archaeologist and PhD student at ECU, swam with precise focus back and forth in a checkerboard pattern atop the wreck holding a GoPro camera out in front of him.  They used this technique, also known as “mowing the lawn,” to develop 3D images of the entire wreck back in the data lab. A few seconds later, photojournalist Dr. Jennifer Adler swam around from behind the wreck. Like a true-to-life mermaid, her wetsuit shimmered in pink and purple scales.  She was documenting the work of the team while capturing the perspective of the wrecks amidst the natural environment, all with the trained eye of a marine biologist.    

Dr. Justin Dunnavant ascends from a dive where he and the team recorded measurements and video of the Hellcat airplane off the coast of Maui.  Photo by Dr. Jennifer Adler

I was in awe of the synergy, grateful to witness a team working collaboratively, clearly in their element, and doing what they love most. The excitement was palpable, and without words to communicate underwater, it was essential that each member of the team knew their responsibilities before the dive. There was no time, or oxygen, for mistakes.  

As an educator viewing this scene from above, I was reminded of the moments that take our breath away in our schools. When we look out on our classrooms and see our students engrossed in an assignment, working passionately at something they love, they are diligent to not waste a moment of time.  As educators, we are always striving to create on land the exact type of energy and focus that this team was demonstrating underwater.  

Hours after emerging from the ocean and climbing back aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, our team set to work processing the images and 3D models, and thanks to the collaboration between National Geographic and the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), I had the opportunity to bring the story of this work back to my school in Kentucky.  We met in the data lab of the ship to create a plan to share with my students at home in our pre-dawn zoom call the next day.  As expected, my students were enthralled to see the photographs and 3D models created less than 12 hours before, but thousands of miles away.  Jaws were hanging open as we clicked through and carefully explained each image, and students couldn’t raise their hands fast enough to ask their questions. This is every teacher’s dream.

Students explored the underwater world through 3D images and videos of the F6F Hellcat engine and propeller. Photogrammetry by Dominic Bush.

Like every breathtaking moment we create in school, these Zoom interactions weren’t the beginning of the story. There were months of careful planning leading up to the expedition. Knowing that students would gain a deeper learning experience from something that they were more emotionally invested in, we started our collaboration two-months prior to the expedition. I guided students through the Maritime Heritage Teacher Playlist, which started with a Call to Action from Dr. Dunnavant. Students used biography maps to investigate the researchers on the team, and we introduced our guiding question: “If we live in the present, why do we care about the past?” Students also learned about the importance of archaeology through three simple, but moving words “Remember, Remind and Restore,” which they learned in Dr. Dunnavant’s Hulu special, Your Attention Please.  We also explored our skills in storytelling through the wordless book Flotsam by David Wiesner. 

While watching Dr. Dunnavant’s message to “remember, remind and restore,” a student was so moved by the video that he stood the entire time.

Once the expedition began, students followed our research synchronously through OET’s outreach capacity including live ship-to-shore interactions and asynchronously through our expedition highlights and ESRI story map. Every other day, I climbed the three flights of stairs aboard E/V Nautilus before the sun rose to share our exciting updates and new findings with the students back home. Rather than waiting months or years for the research to be published, students followed the process as it was happening in real-time.  

Working from the broadcast studio aboard Ocean Exploration Trust’s E/V Nautilus.  We brought the research to the classroom via Ship to Shore interactions.  Photo by: Dr. Jennifer Adler

Finally, students took what they learned about maritime archaeology, 3D imaging technology, and the preservation of natural and historical sites and applied it in a local context. We took our first field trip since before the pandemic to The Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The Falls is home to thousands of ancient coral fossils from the Devonian period dating back 395 million years. My students were amazed that the land they grew up playing on was also underwater millions of years ago. The work set in Hawaii all of a sudden didn’t seem so far away, and provided additional opportunities to elaborate on our guiding question: “If we live in the present, why do we care about the past?”

Students went diving and explored the maritime heritage sites with the team using VR headsets.  Photo by: Ashleigh Glickley

Back in the classroom, students created clay coral sculptures and wrote their own call to action for other youth to work to conserve the natural and historical sites in their surrounding areas. Five of the best writing pieces were then selected to be printed in An Hour in the Deep, an eco-magazine run by a youth eco-journalist on our team, Sruthi Gurudev.  The entire project culminated in an underwater exhibition in which students displayed their art and writing and viewed 360 degree videos captured during the expedition by Dr. Jennifer Adler.  

Reflection by 4th grade student, Nina, on her experience collaborating with the Maritime Heritage Team.

As we approach the beginning of a new school year, and the end of this unit of study that has spanned all 10 months of the year, I have learned many valuable lessons through this experience.  This opportunity brought back into focus what I have known for years.  As educators, we must push to think beyond the textbook when engaging students in our classrooms. We must seek out real-world experiences and opportunities for our students to collaborate with others that aren’t tied to the confines of our classroom or our school.  Technology is advancing at lightning speeds and information is available to our students before we can even think to share it, so we must constantly strive to innovate and seek out experiences that meet our students’ needs.  And in doing so, rekindling our passions and drive as well.  Starting this school year, and dreaming of all the possibilities, my new goal as a teacher is to seek out the experiences that take my, and my students’,  breath away.  

The Maritime Heritage Team aboard the E/V Nautilus. L to R: Ashleigh Glickley, Dr. Jason Raupp, Sruthi Gurudev, Dominic Bush, Dr. Justin Dunnavant, Dr. Jennifer Adler.

If you’d like to learn more about the E/V Nautilus, the work of Ocean Exploration Trust, and follow along with the E/V Nautilus team as they continue their expeditions, you can find them across social media under the following handles/usernames:

Instagram: @NautilusLive
TikTok: @NautilusLive
Facebook: NautilusLive
Twitter (X): @EVNautilus
Youtube: EVNautilus
LinkedIn: Ocean Exploration Trust

You can also find related content under the hashtag #NautilusLive.

Ashleigh Glickley is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and National Board-Certified Teacher with 15 years of experience teaching. Her time as an educator in rural schools in Guatemala inspired her career in dual-language education.  She has also served as an academic coach, curriculum developer, and Project Based Learning specialist with passion to develop equitable and engaging learning experiences for all students.  She has sailed aboard the E/V Nautilus twice as an educator and Science Communication Fellow focusing both on Maritime Heritage and deep-sea biodiversity and geology. 

The resources and social media pages highlighted in this post are not managed by, and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Geographic Society