Friday, February 13, 2009

St. Bernard students get hands on science lesson

St. Bernard Middle School students were recently given a hands on lesson in science class. Mr. Greg Graeber of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab sponsored program MAST (Marine Application of Science and Technology) in Mobile, Alabama brought a hands on science lab with him to instruct students in Mrs. Martha Wells’ science classes. Wells attended the MAST teacher workshop over the summer and was selected to be involved in the MAST follow-up program.

Graeber told students the military was responsible for the creation of the GPS system, and later released this system for public use. “We rely on 24 different satellites in the system orbiting the earth. The receivers must pick up at least 4 satellites in the GPS system in order to communicate. The use of this type of technology which includes the broader area of GIS is a great career path given the technological advancements being made,” he said.

Students were taught how to use a GPS system, and given examples of their uses in various scientific fields as well as day to day activities. Wells said, “Students were divided into two groups to look for way points on our campus; two practice points and two unknown points." Students were taught to read the screens using latitude and longitude coordinates. Prior to the visit, the 7th grade class had been studying map making and the particular challenges of mapping the ocean floor before sonar and satellite technology. Using the satellite technologies of today students were able to understand how the maps of the ocean floor are created. Students also were informed how the GPS aids scientific research of the migration and feeding habits of marine animals. Graeber invited students to visit and adopt a turtle. "These turtles have GPS units glued on their backs, and when the turtle comes up to breathe, it plots a point. Scientists use this data to track their migration and nesting patterns."
A touch lab was on display in the open room of the Middle School. Two tables were filled with preserved sea life to include sharks, horseshoe crabs, a logger head turtle skull, squid, octopus, sting ray, sand crabs, and a rat fish among other interesting sea life. Students were fascinated with the horseshoe crab. Wells said, "Mr. Graeber did an excellent job describing the marine organisms. The students really tuned in to the horseshoe crab’s appearance and were amazed by how its spiny tail could be used to flip itself over. They enjoyed feeling the skin of the shark and agreed that the rat fish really is quite ugly."

As a MAST participant, Wells received a Garmon Marine GPS receiver and the book Google Earth and GPS Classroom Activities. Wells hopes to incorporate GPS uses across the science curriculum at St. Bernard Middle School. GPS units cost about $125 each. Wells said, "It would be great to add ten units to the science lab, and be able to offer our students a more extensive background using this piece of technology." Anyone wishing to know more about St. Bernard Prep School should contact the admissions office at 256-739-6682 or

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