Groton - Students from Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School pressed handsets to their ears and descended into the Historic Ship Nautilus.
Listening to the self-guided tour, Laureanna Goodson-Williams stopped to examine the tight quarters where sailors slept.
"I could not sleep like that. I'd probably cry," she said.
Three friends, Aaron Ramos, Malik Baker and José Marte, took turns peering into rooms and telling the others, "Look at this," "This is cool," and "Wow!" Julio Garcia snapped photos on his cellphone.
Erica Watson, an eighth-grade science teacher at the New London school, said she wants her students to be excited about science, technology, engineering and math. They will need a strong foundation in these subjects in their future careers, she said, and she wants them to be prepared.
She asked her father, retired Rear Adm. Anthony J. Watson, whether he had any ideas for fostering an interest in those topics. He suggested she contact Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two. The students met with Breckenridge last week, and a group of about 60 visited the Submarine Force Museum Monday.
They watched a movie about the submarine force's history and designed their own submarine patches. But for many, the highlight was getting a glimpse at what life was like aboard the Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine.
Some said they'd love to spend more time on a submarine. Others said 15 minutes was enough.
Kierra Holt said she has learned about the Army in school, but not "the submarines that go under the water and fight for our country."
"That's why I thought this was a great experience," said Holt, who is interested in joining the submarine force.
Len Caruso, the docent on Monday, was excited to meet the students because he went to Bennie Dover when it was New London High School. He joined the Navy shortly before graduating in 1959.
"They are excited, and I like to see that," Caruso said as the boisterous group looked at the exhibits. "We are the silent service, but we want them to know about our history."
Ramos, Baker and Marte said they will pay more attention in their science and math classes.
Andreina Villar said the field trip was "awesome," and that she liked meeting Breckenridge, who "made everyone think" with all the questions he posed.
"He used a lot of words we haven't even learned yet," she said.
Villar said she is used to writing down answers to problems on paper. But now she can see how math and science are used to operate a submarine.
"Here, you get to see it and experience it," she said.