At Port of Los Angeles, famed undersea explorer Ballard and other experts helped about 100 educators from across California and the West learn how they can integrate high-tech ocean exploration science into classrooms.
By Josh Rosen, contributing writer
Scientists believe that there are perhaps more than nine million species still waiting to be discovered on the planet Earth. Thanks to new resources provided by AltaSea and famed ocean explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, it’s possible that local students might see some of these creatures being discovered before their very eyes, live in their classroom.
About 100 educators from across California and from as far as Nevada visited San Pedro’s AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 19, to learn from Ballard’s peers and crew about the educational technologies that they’ve invested in — such as the ability to live-stream deep sea exploration — and how they can integrate them into classrooms.
“We want teachers to be equipped with real-world applications of what they’re teaching, and to be able to connect students with the why,” said Megan Cook, manager of education partnerships and program at OET.
“We also know that it’s really exciting — robots at the bottom of the oceans,” he said. “That can really motivate students to understand what they’re doing in class, or motivate them to work a little harder in class, or meet our team and be inspired by their stories, or motivate them to know that these careers are in reach for them.”
Educators were invited to step aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, where Dr. Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust conducts its most important work. The tours were led by scientists who just returned from their 2019 season, where they tried to locate legendary aviator Amelia Earhart’s downed plane and revisited the Davidson Seamount off the coast of Central California.
Room by room, the OET scientists explained how various scientific explorations are performed across the ship. On the main deck stood the gigantic A-frame and winch responsible for lowering the remotely operated vehicles Hercules and Argus into the water. These submersibles connect to the ship via long, heavy cables capable of reaching 4,000-6,000 meters, respectively. They feature an impressive array of technology designed to protect the vessels from the crushing depths of the ocean, to protect any sea life from the ROV and to observe and probe the ocean floor.
One of the most cramped — and exciting — places aboard the Nautilus is a tiny broadcast room connected to a massive satellite antenna, where students will have a chance to directly engage with the scientists abroad. Not only does Nautilus broadcast their dives, but they make all of their data publicly available. They often take time to talk with students and answer questions via the internet.
In addition to the guided tour of their impressive research vessel, scientists from OET and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory taught the educators class-ready demonstrations of concepts like buoyancy and displacement using Lego bricks and water, and showed them how to challenge their classes to apply their knowledge by creating their own neutrally-buoyant ROVs — out of chicken-nugget sauce cups.
The event was free for educators who represented schools across California, including Long Beach, Torrance, Los Angeles and many other regions. Some teachers in attendance, including Susan Garcia, who teaches middle school science at Colin L. Powell Academy in Long Beach, said that it fits right into their new science curriculum, which is trying to better integrate physical and life science.
“It’s like teaching science how explorers do, like how scientists really do, and it’s really exciting for the kids,” said Garcia. “And so it’s trying to teach them to start thinking like a scientist, and truly to start thinking critically, and more in depth on subject matter.”
The Nautilus, homeless for many years, has found a permanent residence at the Port of Los Angeles with AltaSea.
AltaSea was able to further invest in this educational program with the help of a $100,000 grant from Marathon Petroleum, which owns ARCO.
It is now the off-season, but OET will announce their 2020 season sometime this March, and are expecting to return to the sea in June.