How to crush a 67,000 pound oil tanker

The Concord Consortium’s Teacher Ambassador program commemorates our 25th anniversary by recognizing 25 outstanding teachers who have included our digital inquiry resources into their STEM classrooms. We congratulate them on their innovation and creativity.

Erin Cothran, Hudson High School, Hudson, MA

How can something that can’t be seen crush a 67,000 pound oil tanker made of half-inch steel?

That was the driving question Hudson High School teacher Erin Cothran asked her 10th grade chemistry class. “I can’t take full credit for the driving question based on the tanker phenomenon,” she laughs. Erin worked with Dan Damelin, Principal Investigator of our Building Models project, curriculum developer Steve Roderick, and Joe Krajcik at the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University, to write the gas unit that includes the tanker question. It utilizes SageModeler, our web-based systems dynamic modeling software, to help students visualize phenomenon that otherwise are hard to explain. “SageModeler helps students understand the differences between bond energies,” she explains. “It has made a huge difference in their understanding.” (In 2017, on Teacher Appreciation Day, we highlighted Erin’s gas unit and her 67,000-pound-oil-tanker question.)

Teacher Ambassador Erin Cothran

Erin Cothran explaining SageModeler.

Erin first got the teaching bug as an undergraduate biology and chemistry lab mentor at the University of Tampa. “I loved the feeling of helping others understand complicated material,” she explains. But after graduation she decided to work instead as a fisheries observer for NOAA and then a research technician for Charles River Labs. But something was missing, so she applied for a teaching position at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute in Massachusetts.

“No way they’ll hire me,” she thought, since she had no formal teaching experience. Two weeks later she was setting up her classroom to teach inner city students about biology and marine science. “I was hooked and have been teaching ever since.”

She currently teaches 10th grade chemistry, 10-12th grade marine science, and 11-12th grade Advanced Placement environmental science. “I’m excited that education seems to be taking a turn more towards inquiry, where students are the ones asking questions and making discoveries,” she says. “Everything is more meaningful that way.” She’d like to see more teachers have greater access to manipulatives because they help visually explain certain concepts.

In her spare time Erin refinishes furniture (“almost everything in my condo had a previous life”) and dreams of scuba diving for a month on the Great Barrier Reef. She’s already crushed a 67,000 pound oil tanker, so plunging into the deep ocean seems like it might be a no-brainer for her.

Favorite ice cream: Cookies and cream