Restless Redoubt offers chance to engage children

Science teachers take advantage of situation

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2009

An antsy Mount Redoubt has been a boon to headline writers, plastic wrap producers and particle mask manufacturers; but it's also benefited area science teachers.

When news of the volcano's potential eruption reached the ears of Allan Miller, a seventh-grade science teacher at Kenai Middle School, it became a teachable moment.

On Wednesday, Miller's two afternoon science classes spent the period going over the latest real time seismographs while reviewing some of what they'd learned about the volcano in the last week.

"We're looking at trying to get students to understand the reality of the situation. They're living in a rumor mill like everyone else," Miller said. "We want them to see what the science behind it is."

What the students learn in class is valuable on the home front as well.

"We've showed them where they can go to get real information, what to do if we get ashfall, what the health concerns are and how they can prepare their homes and be a resource for their homes," Miller said.

Miller's classes were originally focusing on biology, but have taken some time to study earth sciences now that they have a real-life example making the news in their backyard.

He's not the only teacher to have shifted gear because of the volcano though.

At Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences in Kenai, Laurie Cowgill, the science collaborator, said science classes have changed tack because of the volcano.

"We didn't have it built into the curriculum until sometime in the next few months, so now we've added it in until it erupts," she said.

For teachers, situations like this can't be overlooked.

"It's a teachable moment," she said. "It's why all your best laid plans have to be set aside."

Students in Miller's classes have studied every aspect of the volcano, from watching 3D videos on how shifting continental plates influence the volcano's behavior, to why it's important not to inhale ash that may be spewed on the peninsula if the mountain erupts.

Miller posted photos from the Alaska Volcano Observatory's Web site showing fumaroles issuing steam near the top of the mountain, volcanic mudflows at the mouth of the Drift River from the 1989-90 eruption and current ashfall trajectories created by the National Weather Service, asking students to come up and speak about what each meant.

Students have also learned how they can monitor the volcano's behavior themselves by checking the latest status updates posted by AVO and even studying what's going on below the peak by looking at the earthquake activity put online in real time.

Students said that upon first hearing of the possibility of an eruption they were a little nervous - though a few gleefully admitted they were excited about likely school cancellations.

Having learned more about the volcano, many students said they're less concerned now, and some are even excited by the proposition.

Anessia anne Habler, a seventh-grader at Kenai Middle School, said she first heard about Redoubt's activity while reading a copy of the newspaper after she went to pick it up at the end of her driveway.

"I walked the dogs down there and I'm reading it on my way back and I'm like, GASP! Oh no, there's a volcano," she said.

She told her parents immediately.

"We came back to the house, and I'm like, 'Mom, dad look at this,'" she said.

Habler said her family began putting together an emergency kit.

"We decided to start preparing by getting water and food together. Also, we started learning about it because we wanted to know so we were prepared," she said.

Habler said they also picked up particle masks and plastic sheeting to protect themselves and their electronics from ashfall.

Kyle Olson, also a seventh-grader at Kenai Middle School, said he didn't believe the reports of a possible eruption at first.

"I thought it was some person being crazy," he said.

Reading and watching the news however, he saw that the reports were in fact true, something that made him a bit concerned.

"I've never been next to a volcano before so I didn't really know what to do if it explodes," he said.

Having spent some time learning more about Redoubt both in class and elsewhere, he's not as frightened by it.

"I've found out a lot in science class, in the news and radio," he said.

Habler said she was in a similar boat.

"My dad said it happened when he was in college, and he said it wasn't that bad, you just have to stay indoors," she said.

That won't be a problem for Habler.

"I know some kids are freaking out because they won't have their TV, but I'm not that kid, I'm more of a reader," she said.

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