By: Anna Heller, SUT Houston, November 28, 2016
Working with science teachers at both Oakwood and Cypress Grove Intermediate Schools, the combined efforts of College Station School District, SUT-OSIG and SUT-TAMU resulted in an outreach to over 950 students. The course subject matter focused on underwater discovery and remote sensing methods.
Chairman of SUT-OSIG’s school touring committee, Mr. Andrew Haigh, led the efforts. “Almost 1,000 students in two days. This is not 500 students in a lecture theater, this is more direct, working in individual classes of 20-25 students is much more effective,” stated Haigh.
According to Haigh, a team of six professionals presented 38 presentations over the two days. Each presentation lasted 50 minutes. Comprising of roughly 30 minutes of underwater survey techniques and methods and 20 minutes of hands on classroom activities, with time for discussion questions at the end.
One of the six professionals, Masoud Khodadad, an Educational Outreach Coordinator for SUT-TAMU and a Masters Student of Engineering, helped to plan and implement the school-touring event. “’Seeing with Sound’ was the name of the presentation. In deep water ocean you cannot see, it’s so dark and so pressurized, you have to use sound technology.”
Khodadad first met with College Station ISD science coordinator, Amanda Gibson (grades k-8) to propose and plan the school-touring event.
“We had a meeting with Amanda, we told her exactly what we do, what we’ve done in the past, and that we teach students about ocean technology and get them excited about it. She saw the value in that.”
Gibson, was just as excited about the school-touring program. “Every single 5th grade student in our district got to hear their presentation and they loved it.”
Pleased with how the tours went, Gibson said, “Students were able to see the practical application of how scientists use sound energy in real life to be able to discover underwater objects and features they can’t see with their eyes. The content of their presentation was a really good fit for what the students needed right at that moment.”
According to Gibson and Haigh, the course was a great follow-up to the unit the students had just learned and precursor to the next unit. This course helped the students connect what they were learning as well as gain perspective from a real professional in the field.
The inaugural school tour in College Station received positive feedback from both teachers and students.
One teacher wrote: ‘Thank you so much for coming and speaking to our classes today! They absolutely loved it, and it was perfect for our energy unit and for the content we will cover later in the spring. We hope to book you again next fall!"
In order to keep the school-touring program successful, Haigh tries to solicit feedback from the school staff and students. “That helps us to improve our presentations and our event planning in the future.”
According to Gibson, in one classroom a presenter used an example of what would happen to a Styrofoam cup if it were taken deep underwater on a submersible due to the high pressure under water. The cups will shrink to nearly the size of a thimble. A teacher actually happened to have a physical example of these Styrofoam cups.
“It was pretty cool,” Gibson said, “A research group from the Oceanography department at Texas A&M had visited Oakwood Intermediate several years ago. Each student got to decorate the outside of a Styrofoam cup, and the research group agreed to take their cups down in a submersible and bring them back to the students to see how they changed.”
“She had real examples in her own classroom that the kids could see and touch. It just blew their minds, the presenter was surprised too!”
These hands on experiences with real professionals are very valuable to the students, especially in terms of their futures with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Both Haigh and Gibson want to make sure students continue to show an interest and be involved in STEM experiences.
“Cross curricular connections are an important part of a student’s learning. I am passionate about how kids use math, reading, and writing in the context of a science classroom. We’re thinking in terms of the whole child.” Gibson said about also connecting English Language Arts (ELA) and Math while in science class.
“We need to strengthen connections between the content areas, because the real world is not divided into subjects. When we honor all the knowledge and skills a child has, regardless of what classroom we happen to be in, we strengthen the applicability of their school learning. And when we can include presentations from field scientists and researchers such as SUT-OSIG, the student’s eyes are opened to future possibilities in inspiring ways.”
Many goals can be achieved by using the school-touring program in the classroom and both the College Station School District and SUT-OSIG hope to expand the program.
Haigh and the rest of the SUT-OSIG committee members and volunteers continue to strive to make this outreach program a success while working to branch out of the Central Houston Area where over 6,000 students were reached during the 2015-16 school year.
“It’s an educational outreach program with an aim to raise the profile of both ocean and earth science,” Haigh said about the program, which has a goal of carefully expanding their presenter pool to effectively present in more schools.
“All members of our committee are firm that we don’t want to dilute the quality of the product by having too much quantity.” Haigh expressed about the future goals of the program.
“We have tremendous community support here in College Station, and with the proximity of Texas A&M we want to continue to build partnerships that will excite our students about the possibilities that exist with careers in STEM,” Gibson commented.
So far the touring program has proven successful; placing professionals in the classroom has changed the atmosphere of learning for the students, enthusing them to think about educational pathways leading to ocean and earth sciences. Many teachers and schools have been asking for follow up presentations.
“We will be looking for more opportunities if they’re willing to come, we are going to plug them in as much as we can.” Gibson said if given the opportunity to have OSIG do more tours.
Haigh agrees, “That’s the strength of the program, to be able to put scientists, professionals working in the field, in the classroom with the students, that is what makes it such a valuable, educational program.“