Underwater investigation

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Educators and students across Alaska and as far away as Massachusetts are converging at NOAA's Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute this week to participate in an intense - and intensely fun - workshop entitled Super SeaPerch: The Next Step.

Organized by the Juneau Economic Development Council's SpringBoard program and supported by NOAA and the National Defense Education Program (NDEP), Super SeaPerch is an advanced investigation into the design and use of underwater remote operated vessels, or ROVs. SeaPerch was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003 and has become an increasingly popular teaching tool in K-12 science education programs across the country. The program will be held Monday through Wednesday.

The seven participating teachers - each choosing a student to bring along - have basic experience building and using SeaPerch ROVs. In Super SeaPerch, they will focus on developing semi-autonomous control of the ROVs and using various types of sensors to investigate the underwater world. Utilizing underwater video cameras, wearable screen monitors, temperature sensors, hydrophones, still cameras for time-lapse photography, computers, microcontrollers and lots of interactive engineering design, they will develop and program very sophisticated ROVs. Additional topics will also be covered that blend engineering, art and science into hands-on projects.

The real goal is to show how much fun and engaging learning can be when students have the opportunity to participate in the design process, an organizer said.

"One of the unique aspects of the Super SeaPerch workshop is the fact that students and their teachers will be working side-by-side as equals, exploring ideas for solving engineering design problems, said Bob Vieth, one of the workshop's organizers. "As a result, teachers will be better informed about their classroom practice and, by extension, will provide improved learning opportunities for their students."

Super SeaPerch instructors include Ed Moriarty, who is on the staff of the Edgerton Center at MIT, and his son, Tom, an undergraduate engineering student at MIT. Joining them will be Candida Desjardins of the Naval Underwater Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

The workshop's select group of teachers routinely use SeaPerch in their classrooms and want to take their teaching to the next level. They include Ben McLuckie of Hoonah, Tennie Bentz of Haines, Rebecca Farrell of Juneau, Sheryl Salasky of Chugach, Shonia Werner of Kasilof, Robert Parsons of UAF, and Daniel Smalley of Cambridge, Mass. Each of them is required to bring a student to the workshop so teachers and students can work collaboratively in research and engineering design, and it is the students' ideas that will determine the direction of the workshop.

Via web conference, the participants will also interact with staff at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Society for Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

The public is invited to drop in on the workshop at TSMRI on June 16 from 1 to 3 p.m. to observe, ask questions and share in the excitement of discovery.

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