Schools nationwide are quickly learning that hands-on learning stimulates interest in STEM careers. While STEM careers and courses can have a reputation that precedes them as being difficult, boring and meant for the super smart, using hands-on learning opportunities in STEM courses makes the subject matter approachable, exciting and easy to relate to real-world applications.

VOCABULARY 180Whether you’re responsible for STEM curriculum at the middles school or high school level, or teach at the collegiate level, finding ways to incorporate hands-on learning opportunities is a great way to engage students and ignite an interest in STEM careers.

Students in John Caplis’ High School Shipwreck Alley class took a field trip this last week to Thunder Bay Island aboard the Glass Bottom Boat to investigate the Monohansett shipwreck. The class was able to use remotely operated vehicles they had designed and constructed during the last trimester thanks to a grant from the Besser Foundation.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary also brought two of their ROVs for students to use to view the wreck, along with divers from the sanctuary in the water to assist the ROVs and communicate with the students aboard the Lady Michigan.

“This was the culminating experience of the course,” Caplis said. “One of the things we learned for future sessions of the class is to make the ROVs heavier to resist the waves and put longer tethers on them. The tether we had was 50 feet, and it just wasn’t enough to fully explore the wreck site.”

Students asked the divers questions like how cold the water was (40 degrees Fahrenheit), and questions about the shipwreck and how it sank. This was the first time they had the opportunity to interact with divers using full face masks and a communication system while they were in the water.

“Interacting with the divers was extremely fun for them,” Caplis said.

Sanctuary divers Tane Casserley, Russ Green, and Wayne Lusardi helped provide answers to student questions and guide them around the shipwreck, while sanctuary volunteer Chuck Wiesen provided students with information on different aspects of the wreck. Casserley has been the liaison between the sanctuary and the shipwreck alley course since the class started.

One of the goals of the shipwreck alley class is to learn about archeological surveying, and until now, they were only experienced in surveying on shore.

“The students drove the sanctuary ROV into the boiler of the wreck and discovered fresh-water shrimp living in it,” Caplis said. “By viewing the Monohansett and being right above it, students were able to assess the condition of the wreck. Since it’s shallow, they saw the effects of the waves and ice on the ship and realized the wreck was not well preserved due to its location.”

The Monohansett originally wa a double-decked bulk freighter, and was converted into a single-decked lumber carrier in 1892. The ship burned to the waters edge at Thunder Bay Island in 1907 with no loss of life in the wreck because the ship was so near to the island’s life saving station. The wreck rests 15-25 feet below the surface.

The students also looked at the effects of invasive species, like zebra mussels, and how they can inhibit the study of wrecks.

“The class noticed the zebra mussels covered about 30 percent of the wreck and obscured some of the details that made the wreck recognizable. They all thought it would be covered with more zebra mussels than were actually there because the mussels usually thrive in that depth of water.” Caplis said. “The pieces and details researchers use to determine the ships origin, time period, and other interesting construction details were distorted by the appearance of the mussels.”

The students watched the divers around the wreck with the underwater cameras mounted on their ROVs. This allowed them to ask specific questions about parts of the ship and get immediate answers.

“Everyone had a great time and it was a great learning experience for the students,” Caplis said. “They really enjoyed being able to interact with the divers and investigate a wreck underwater with an ROV they built earlier in the year. The students feedback showed that they really enjoy the hands-on components of the class.”

CONTINUE READING – Nothing Beats Hands-On Experience

Nicole Grulke is a News Staff Writer at The Alpena News