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Oct. 18, 2007
CONTACT: Ward Mullens

Happy rubber duck accident lead to NOAA grant for EMU

YPSILANTI - When thousands of rubber ducks fell off of a cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 1992, it had a ripple affect (pun intended).

More than 12 years later, Eastern Michigan University Professor Sandra Rutherford is riding one of those waves to a five-year grant worth $461,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help elementary school teachers put more science in their classrooms.

“In 2003, I was in Australia and there was an article in the local newspaper about how these rubber ducks were landing along the beaches and how people should report finding the ducksbecause they wanted to see where the ocean surface currents were taking them,” said Rutherford, a professor in the geography and geology department.

Rutherford remembered the story of the rubber ducks, which kindled the development of the idea for a grant proposal that was one of only five in the nation to be funded by NOAA this year.

Her proposal includes developing a children’s book about the rubber ducks that can be used by future teachers in the classroom to teach students about the science of waves and surface currents. The books will be similar to books developed by UCAR for the GLOBE Website.  The books and lesson plans are free for teachers to download  (see http://www.globe.gov/elementaryglobe).

While there have been several fictional children’s books written about the rubber ducks, Rutherford said her children’s book will include more science accompanied by hands-on activities to help the students learn about the science behind surface currents.

"Elementary teachers usually only teach science for about 20 minutes, three times a week, and many schools provide teachers with science kits to help them with their science curriculum,"  Rutherford said.  The children's book will allow teachers to embed science into their language arts curriculum and give them additional activities for their science curriculum.

Another major component of Rutherford’s grant is that the pre-service teachers in her earth science class at EMU will be taught how to use the book and accompanying hands-on activities.  The pre-service teachers also will be taught more ocean science content and be introduced to Websites with data so they can develop other Great Lakes and ocean-related activities.  The pre-service teachers will then be tracked to their next science class, biology; to student teaching, and then to their first job to determine if their increased knowledge in ocean science translates into greater student learning.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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