How 20 teachers turned ordinary water bottles into spry mini seagliders.
This post comes to us from Sara Heimlich.
Changes in marine mammal distribution and abundance, caused by environmental stresses or human activities, can have a major impact on the function of the entire deepwater ecosystem. One of the research projects being conducted by staff at the PMEL acoustics group is looking at exactly this topic in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). LADC-GEMM (Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center-Gulf Ecological Monitoring and Modeling) is a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional effort, using expertise from marine acoustics, biology, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computational predictive modeling, with the aim of understanding of how the regional marine mammal population in the northern GoM has been affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill.
The research and science behind projects like LADC-GEMM can often seem high-brow, inaccessible, and even confusing. So, one of the ways the LADC-GEMM project aims to demystify ocean science is by using the popularity of robotic ocean gliders – like our charismatic “Otis” and “Clyde”- to engage teachers and students in exploring many of the essential skills and principles of the kind of work that is becoming more commonplace in the marine sector.
“What are underwater gliders and how are they used by scientists to study the ocean and its inhabitants?” is a simple question that opens up many avenues for exploration. But the most fun and accessible is actually building a working model of a seaglider. Recently, 20 elementary through high school, in and out-of-school educators from around the state of Oregon came to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon to spend a Saturday doing just that. During the SeaGlide Educator Workshop, they also heard directly from David K. Mellinger, Haru Matumoto, Sharon Nieukirk, Sara Heimlich, Alex Turpin and Selene Fergosi about how gliders are being used in their research. The workshop, organized with the help of Tracy Crews at HMSC’S Oreon Coast STEM Hub, also provided a presentation by Toledo, Oregon high school students. These juniors and seniors had already spent a school term building their own simple models and analyzing real data collected by gliders used in field work conducted for the Oceans Observatories Initiative (OOI), provided by Jon Fram of Oregon State University’s College of Earth ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS). This gave the Seaglide workshop participants the opportunity to see how curricula can be developed around this engaging STEM activity, either in a classroom or for after-school programs.
The seagliders built during the workshop used designs and instructions developed by Michael Britt-Crane at Seaglide.net. SeaGlide was originally designed for high school students. It moves by changing its buoyancy, taking in or expelling water. This change in buoyancy causes the glider to rise and sink in the water. As the glider travels up and down, its wings generate lift, which propels the glider forward. SeaGlide can’t run for months at a time like real gliders, but it can collect temperature and pressure data as it ‘flies’ through the water.
For the workshop participants, the hands-on experience of building their own Seaglider with the help of mentors (several were local members of the high school robotics club) proved to be the most valuable part of the day. The majority walked away from the workshop feeling confident in facilitating this STEM learning experience, and being able to teach students about the science, technology, engineering and math aspects. Some plan to incorporate gliders in curriculum as part of a course in the school system, some in an after school club or activity, and a few as a summer program.
SeaGlide workshops are being organized by PMEL staff working with LADC-GEMM consortium members for 2016 and 2017, in Mississippi and other “Gulf States”.