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New tech puts fish at your fingertips

DIPAC touch screens turns students into researchers

Posted: October 16, 2013 - 12:07am
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Rich Mattson, aquarium manager and education coordinator at the Ladd Macaulay Visitor Center, gives instruction to students attending the center's annual salmon education program on Thursday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Rich Mattson, aquarium manager and education coordinator at the Ladd Macaulay Visitor Center, gives instruction to students attending the center's annual salmon education program on Thursday.

The new touch screen computers at Douglas Island Pink and Chum Macaulay Hatchery provided Gastineau Community School teacher Eliza Dorn’s second grade class with something kids crave — independence.

On a salmon education field trip last week, Dorn’s students used the screens to learn more about the animals they saw in the Ladd Macaulay Visitor Center aquarium.

“It helped to make their learning very purposeful because they were finding things in the tank and finding them on the screens,” Dorn said. “They (the students) were eagerly jumping back and forth between the tanks and the screens.”

The three screens provide information about each critter in the tank with the touch of a finger.

“The kids really latched onto the idea of being researchers,” Dorn said. “It was nice how independent it was, and they were doing it without any assistance from adults.”

Aquarium manager Rich Mattson leads DIPAC’s salmon education program and said that after years of teaching without the technology, he’s still figuring out the best way to incorporate the screens into his lessons. He said he thinks the screens are a cool tool that puts learning in kids’ hands.

“The main thing is to observe the animals in the actual environment in the aquariums, and then take that observation and do their own research,” Mattson said. “It sort of empowers them more to be able to find and learn about the animals on their own.”

The touch screens were installed in May and cost DIPAC $10,000, tourism and education manager Sarah Lowell said. The goal was to make the visitor center more engaging, she said.

“This day and age, people are wanting more interactive exhibits,” Lowell said.

DIPAC will update the software on the computers as new animals are added to the tank, she said.

The hatchery will make the visitor center even more hands-on with a small expansion and addition of two touch tanks, Lowell said. A wall that now separates the center from the hatchery’s old tourism office will be taken down at the end of the month. The touch tanks will be placed in the space and will be ready for Sea Week next spring, she said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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