Eighth grade science students at Los Alamos Middle School recently traveled, via Skype, to the Tasman Sea off the coast of New Zealand to take part in an oceanographic study.
Along with students from 10 or so other schools around the country, the Los Alamos students and their teacher, Brian Nelson, are working with the scientists as they do their research on tidal currents.
Kids have been emailing their questions to the scientists and participated in 45-minute Skype tour of the ship where scientists are conducting their experiments, during which they were able to talk with the scientists, Nelson said. The scientists will be out at sea through March 11.
The class visits https://scripps.ucsd.edu/projects/ttide/ each week for updates on the project.
The team of scientists is studying internal tides. According to the T-Tide website, “Surface tides supply about 1 TW of power to internal tides as tidal currents attempt to flow over undersea mountains. Most this internal-tidal energy propagates away from its generation region in the form of low-mode internal tides. The ultimate fate of this energy is unknown. The specific geography of energy dissipation has a large impact on the overall circulation of the ocean, its biological functioning, and our climate.”
Since internal tides affect everything from plankton to tidal waves, the study affords a perfect way for students to integrate their knowledge of biology from the seventh grade curriculum with their studies of physical science in the eighth grade, Nelson said.
Teaching is a passion for Nelson who started out studying physics. “I was always most interested in applying physics to the world,” Nelson said.
Nelson had a life changing experience volunteering in an eighth grade classroom during his time at Oregon State University.
“I discovered I loved teaching at the middle school level,” he said. “Their brains can do abstract thinking, but they haven’t yet been burned out in school.”
He went after a Master of Education degree at Ithaca College, but has never abandoned his love of fluid dynamics and still has many contacts among former colleges in physics and oceanography. These contacts were what led to the unique collaboration of his students with the scientists aboard ship on the Tasman Sea where the science team uses state of the art instruments to measure internal waves.
The science team will be at sea through March 11. When they return to port, there will be a second Skype opportunity, so the students can learn the preliminary results of the research.
The first Skype session wasn’t without its problems, Nelson said. “About 45 minutes before it was set to go, a kid yanked the fire alarm—but we pulled it off,” he said.
Nelson came to LAMS three years ago and this year, is teaching five eighth grade science classes in physical science to around 100 students.
“Doing only one class prep allows me to do projects like this,” Nelson said. “Getting the kids excited is a teacher’s most important job.”