GRAYSVILLE, Ga. — Fourteen teachers from five states spent the beginning of their summer break doing the darter shuffle through the cool waters of South Chickamauga Creek.
The teachers stroked their feet from side to side along the creek floor toward Tennessee Aquarium Vice President of Education and Conservation Anna George and her husband Dave Neely, who stood downstream waiting with a net. George and Neely — a fish expert in his own right who works as a naturalist and field biologist — helped the teachers identify more than a dozen species they caught during a short afternoon in the water.
The group was taking part in the third annual weeklong River Teachers workshop. They'll snorkel in the Conasauga, raft down the Ocoee and learn lessons they can implement in their curriculum next school year. Tuesday's lessons included stream sampling and water quality monitoring.
The teachers represented private, public and alternative schools from Tennessee and surrounding states, and despite it being summer break, they were eager to work and learn more for future students.
"I'm a lifelong learner, and if I can improve my craft, I think it is going to help the children," said Natalie Cothran, an eighth grade science teacher at East Lake Academy.
The school recently added an aquaponics system — a tank that combines plants and aquatic animals. Cothran wasn't very fish savvy, she said, so she wanted to learn more about the subject.
Other Hamilton County teachers joined Cothran, working in tandem to wade through the creek testing the water's pH and dissolved oxygen levels.
Soddy Daisy high school environmental science teacher David Wehunt has wanted to go to the event the past two years but had conflicts with other professional development training. He was finally able to make it this year and said such events are important for teachers.
"There's no substitute for experience," Wehunt said. "You can read a book all you want, but to actually go do something, you really learn and know what you're doing."
Other teachers, like Kelsey Carr and Rachel Boothe, who teach high school in Mississippi, traveled from out of state. Booth had previously been to a workshop in the Chattanooga area and wanted to come back. The two used to teach at the same school and enjoy spending time together, so they decided to come to the aquarium's program.
The program gives the aquarium a chance to teach regional educators about the freshwater diversity found throughout the Southeast, according to George.
The aquarium's conservation institute is hosting another workshop June 24-27, this time for elementary teachers. There are still spots available for the workshop. More information is available on the aquarium website.