Friday, September 12, 2014

EV Nautilus.

Last year, through the NSTA listserve, an email came across my desk for Juniors in high school to apply to work with the scientists with Dr. Robert Ballard's group.  This opportunity was through the Ocean Exploration Trust.  I don't teach high school, but my own personal daughter has been a long time fan of Dr. Ballard.  She has read most of his books, and usually watches everything he is doing.  We thought it was a long shot, but we had her apply.

The process was easy.  They fill out a form, get a physical, write some essays and wait.  Alex was selected for a SKYPE interview, and eventually was awarded one of 8 slots.  We were beyond excited.  She spent 3.5 weeks this summer at the University of Rhode Island, participating in a class, and learning about the jobs of the scientists who work for OET.  She helped to create this video:

The last part of her journey happened the first week of school.  She flew to Montego Bay with another Honors Research Student, as well as a chaperon and spent a week on the EV Nautilus, Dr. Ballard's research boat.  She was so excited.  Once on board, she worked as a data logger, watching footage from the submersibles and documenting plant and animal life to view later.  She learned a lot about the various roles of everyone on the boat, and really is focusing on studying oceanograph/marine biology and communications in her future.

One of the requirements was to do a SKYPE type session with students at home.  We were able to secure a spot for my elementary school, her high school, and a middle school STEM magnet in our district.
Allison (on the left) and Alex on the right are speaking to our students from the Nautilus. 

Showing footage of their drifter project. 

Our students were so focused on what they were hearing.  

Even though Alex is no longer on the boat, our class continues to check into and leave it up as background when we're working to see what they are up to.  This week we've watched them explore underwater sea mounts which coincides with our Landforms and Oceans unit. I highly recommend checking out the link, and if you're in my district, Alex is available to come to your class and talk to your students about her experience.  

Secret Challenge - hint hint

I was a little worried coming into this year, because I didn't have my big "thing" that I try to use early to hook my kids.  I worked a lot last year on integrating programming, robotics, searching for novels that fit STEM themes, etc, but I didn't feel that I had something new for this year.  I'm not one to repeat the same projects year after year, especially if they are noticeable and public like the chairs last year.  I knew I didn't want to do pallet chairs this year...... so what could I do?????????

Then THIS came across my feed the NIGHT BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED.

As soon as it ended I thought, "Cute, Bill Gates! I'm pretty sure my students can do it without touching the bucket..... " which led me to a Rube Goldberg type project.

The problem was that I wanted to take advantage of the ALS momentum.... but I have students who haven't built on the scale I was thinking.  They've done Legos and K'Nex, etc, but they haven't BUILT WITH TOOLS, and usually the beginning of the year is all about procedures and establishing routines.  How was I going to jump in and get these kids designing and building? So, we made a secret pact.  We would try, but we would not tell anyone outside of our classroom in case it was an epic fail. We could fail together, but we didn't want to fail publicly.

The first week of school the kids were designing by themselves.  We started with the end result, and then worked backwards thinking what would make that move.  Then we came together in our groups and created a team suggestion.
Here is L. on the second day of school working on her example. 

S. needed two pages and a hill. 

Each group then presented and we had two good ideas for the ending.  Most of the kids stuck with the Bill Gates idea of a structure holding a bucket, but one group had the idea of a bowling ball falling into a bucket which falls to the ground and then pulls a string and tips the bucket.  Another group had a similar idea, so we started at that point.  Then we backed up to the previous step to get that to happen.  After GREAT discussion (they very politely critiqued each other) they decided they wanted a bowling ball coming down a ramp,  Eventually we created this drawing:  

Over the next few days we gathered supplies.  I bought PVC pipe, and Home Depot was so excited about my idea they gave me a PVC pipe cutter (YAY, a sponsor).  I also brought in lots of scrap wood (we had taken down stairs from our back porch so I brought in the runners, and my husband hasn't missed the wood I removed from the back porch or garage yet). 

(The view from my classroom widow)

We roped in a Watch Dog volunteer (our dad volunteer group) who is really good at letting the kids take the lead, and really helps facilitate discussions about how to build something, and we got started. 

A., the girl with the PVC pipe cutter, has BEASTIE skills at using that thing.  She has out cut every boy who has tried! 

Here are the kids trying to figure out the best materials for what they want to build.  We've had some interesting applications of math in this project.  For instance, we have 8 PVC pipes which are 10 feet in length each.  How do we optimize our cuts to avoid waste?

P. learning to use a level. 

We initially changed the picture at the top (drawn on the board), but the change didn't work, so we've gone back to the original plan..... We are learning that testing is a HUGE part of science/engineering and learning. Below is a video of yesterday's test:

In the classroom, we've researched ALS and are working on an informative commercial.  We hope to fundraise next week, and possibly end the week with a finished build, and our Principal getting very wet- although I have a lot of students who volunteer for this as well. We are long past folks posting ALS challenges, but I'll be sure to post ours as soon as we finish. Constructive feedback and questions are welcomed in our comment link.