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Science Education In Action At Sea

Published
A group of local science teachers got to see science in action aboard a research cruise this summer. They worked with scientists from the University of...

A group of local science teachers got to see science in action aboard a research cruise this summer. They worked with scientists from the University of Rhode Island.

A team of engineers, technicians, and oceanographers stand in a cluster at the back end of the research vessel the Endeavor. Wearing life vests and brightly colored hard hats, they lower an anchor attached by a cable to a large instrument that looks like a toy airplane.   

The scientists are testing out this instrument called the wire flyer to gather ocean data like temperature and salinity. It’s designed to be slippery like a watermelon seed, so it can move easily through strong ocean currents.The wire flyer is a new instrument designed to collect profiles of the deep sea at greater resolutions than existing instruments. It's scheduled for its first science research cruise next year off the coast of California.

“So it’s got some wings that stick out the side,” said Chris Roman, the URI marine engineer who developed the wire flyer with his students. “It’s kind of a streamlined shape because you’re pulling it through the water.”

It’ll zig zag up and down as it’s towed behind the ship, collecting information scientists need to study subjects like marine biology or climate change. 

On this trip, these scientists have a large audience watching them. Eight local science teachers huddle to the side, taking pictures each time the wire flyer goes out for test runs.

But they’re not just observing. The teachers are on board to witness how dynamic the ocean is and learn how to use the tools to study it.

Jessica Grant teaches fourth grade science at Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Cumberland. She and other teachers open several large gray canisters to gather water samples from the sea.

This is one of several activities they got to do over the course of four days, as they traveled from Narragansett Bay to the Atlantic continental shelf 100 miles south of Block Island. Grant told her students in summer school about the cruise.

“And they were like sad that I was going to be gone [for a few days], but so excited for me to bring back all this cool stuff," said Grant. "And I was like ‘I’m going to show you pictures and videos,’ and they like jumped with joy at how excited they were for me.”

Teachers observed as the wire flyer was deployed multiple times over the course of four days.

And that enthusiasm is exactly what scientists on this cruise hope the teachers will take back to their classrooms. Doing science at sea is expensive. And these research cruises are funded by taxpayers (state and federal, depending on the project). The scientists are required not only to advance new technologies through their research, but also to share their work with the public.

David Smith, associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI, hopes teachers will help cultivate the next generation of scientists.

“Those seeds are sown very early, so I’m very glad teachers are here showing their enthusiasm here,” said Smith, “and I have no doubt that they’ll take that back to the classroom.”

They’ll also bring back new ideas for projects to give their students. Jessica Grant, fourth grade science teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Cumberland, learned how to communicate with the engineers from the lab as they were out working on the flyer.

Joseph Bartoshevich teaches science at Kickemuit Middle School in Warren. Bartoshevich appreciated learning how the wire flyer started out as an idea in the classroom and then developed into a prototype that scientists are now testing at sea. He wants to try some of that in the Lego Robotics team that he coaches at school.

“Maybe coming up for the robot to do in my classroom, maybe send the robot a certain distance out and take a sample, because we have sensors on the robots too that we use,” said Bartoshevich.

The wire flyer has a couple of real science cruises lined up, including one trip next year off the coast of California. Providence algebra teacher Aman Malik paid close attention as scientists released the wire flyer into the sea and brought it back to the lab to make tweaks.

“I heard some of the scientists here talking about fractions and numerators and denominators and using angles and calculating different numbers in order to be able to do their research,” said Malik.

Malik said his students are constantly asking him when they’re actually going to use the math he’s teaching them. He said now he has real examples.

Tomorrow two more teachers will board the R/V Endeavor for a five-day trip as biologists and archaeologists investigate the remains of several shipwrecks off the coast of Rhode Island. Using high-tech tools, they’ll unlock clues to history and research bioluminescent animals living around the shipwreck sites. 

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic?  Please email us, we’d like to hear from you: news@ripr.org

Teachers also got to learn how to use other tools and instruments to collect data from the sea. Here, they are working with the primary tool oceanographers use to determine temperature, salinity, and other seawater properties.
Teachers brought back water samples to the R/V Endeavor's
They tried to characterize the microbial community in the seawater.
Chris Roman, an associate professor of oceanography at the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI, taught teachers how to determine the location of the ship using celestial navigation.
The wire flyer was designed to collect data profiles from the deep sea in the order of hundreds, more frequent than existing tools.
David Smith, oceanography professor and associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, invited teachers to see first-hand how challenging and important it is to do research at sea. They collected samples from Block Island Sound all the way to the Atlantic continental shelf to witness how variable and dynamic the ocean is.
Joseph Bartoshevich learned how to use a sextant, an instrument used to determine the position of a ship. Global positioning satellites have now replaced celestial navigation.
David Smith, oceanography professor and associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, invited teachers to see first-hand how challenging and important it is to do research at sea. They collected samples from Block Island Sound all the way to the Atlantic continental shelf to witness how variable and dynamic the ocean is.
David Smith, oceanography professor and associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, invited teachers to see first-hand how challenging and important it is to do research at sea. They collected samples from Block Island Sound all the way to the Atlantic continental shelf to witness how variable and dynamic the ocean is.
They tried to characterize the microbial community in the seawater.
They tried to characterize the microbial community in the seawater.
Teachers also got to learn how to use other tools and instruments to collect data from the sea. Here, they are working with the primary tool oceanographers use to determine temperature, salinity, and other seawater properties.
Teachers also got to learn how to use other tools and instruments to collect data from the sea. Here, they are working with the primary tool oceanographers use to determine temperature, salinity, and other seawater properties.
The wire flyer is a new instrument designed to collect profiles of the deep sea at greater resolutions than existing instruments. It's scheduled for its first science research cruise next year off the coast of California.
The wire flyer is a new instrument designed to collect profiles of the deep sea at greater resolutions than existing instruments. It's scheduled for its first science research cruise next year off the coast of California.
Chris Roman, an associate professor of oceanography at the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI, taught teachers how to determine the location of the ship using celestial navigation.
Chris Roman, an associate professor of oceanography at the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI, taught teachers how to determine the location of the ship using celestial navigation.
Joseph Bartoshevich learned how to use a sextant, an instrument used to determine the position of a ship. Global positioning satellites have now replaced celestial navigation.
Joseph Bartoshevich learned how to use a sextant, an instrument used to determine the position of a ship. Global positioning satellites have now replaced celestial navigation.
Teachers brought back water samples to the R/V Endeavor's
Teachers brought back water samples to the R/V Endeavor's "wet lab."
Jessica Grant, fourth grade science teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Cumberland, learned how to communicate with the engineers from the lab as they were out working on the flyer.
Jessica Grant, fourth grade science teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Cumberland, learned how to communicate with the engineers from the lab as they were out working on the flyer.
The wire flyer was designed to collect data profiles from the deep sea in the order of hundreds, more frequent than existing tools.
The wire flyer was designed to collect data profiles from the deep sea in the order of hundreds, more frequent than existing tools.
Teachers observed as the wire flyer was deployed multiple times over the course of four days.
Teachers observed as the wire flyer was deployed multiple times over the course of four days.