Industrial cutters, PVC piping, soldering irons and pool noodles may not be the typical equipment of an eighth-grade honors science class, but that's what's on the lab tables at Sigsbee Charter School this year.
Twenty-two middle school students not only built their own underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs,) but also will use them all year long in the course of their studies.
Each vehicle includes a 1' x 1' x 1' plastic tube cage weighing less than five pounds framed around three battery powered propeller driving motors.
A long tether of wires connects the motors to a remote control.
The 13- and 14-year-old students took a week to precisely assemble each robot.
"This is closely related to an experimental design as a scientist," teacher Alena Liepzig said. "Using the ROVs will help them understand engineering and make them better problem solvers here and in life."
All of this it taking place with no cost to the school. A $100,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to the Navy League provided the funding. The Navy League Key West Council was the only chapter in the country to distribute the program to four local schools, including Sigsbee, to actually use in their classroom science programs and not as an extra-curricular or enrichment program.
"We hope it will encourage more science appreciation, especially underwater engineering," said John Parce of the Navy League Key West Council. A company called Seaperch provided the materials and teacher training.
The entire project is an effort to bring more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into classrooms nationwide.
The hard-working teenagers recently tested out their new robots at the Florida Keys Community College's pool, launching the robots, adjusting buoyancy, controlling the propulsion and steering and then ending the trial with a full lap-length race.
And that's only the beginning.
"We liked the potential of this program so much," said SCS Principal Elisa Jannes, "that we wrote an entire curriculum around it to not only build the ROVs, but to actually apply their use throughout the school year."
Up next is a chemistry lesson, where the robots will collect the water samples students will analyze and test in various experiments. And a physics lesson is not far behind.
As scientists, the Sigsbee students documented their observations in writing as well as visually, both with video and Go Pro cameras mounted to their underwater robots.
Sigsbee Charter School is located on Naval Air Station Key West, and serves approximately 525 children in Kindergarten through eighth-grade. This non-profit organization strives to motivate students through a marine-science, environmental education program that capitalizes on the local marine sanctuary.
For more information, call Jannes at 305-294-1861, or email Elisa.Jannes@KeysSchools.com.