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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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