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Students experience dive into virtual ocean

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Aniyah Gardiner, Isaiah Thomas and Makeila Wainwright try out the viewfinders (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

If you’re in a submarine, always remember to close the hatch before going down.

Prospect Primary pupils learnt the lesson before they went on a virtual dive last week.

Twenty-eight students used viewfinders hooked up to mobile phones. They got a 360-degree look at a submarine diving and the wonders of the ocean beneath.

The experience was courtesy of XL Catlin’s Oceans Education programme, designed to boost ocean literacy for children ages 7-16.

“Everything went really well,” said Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, cofounder of XL’s Coral Live 2017 partner Digital Explorer. “The children were beautifully engaged. We have been filming 360 degree content for several years, but this is the first year that we really rolled it out.

“It was lovely that it actually tied into the school curriculum. It allows students to be connected to what’s happening in the real world in terms of scientific research.”

The 9 and 10-year-olds at Prospect Primary were excited to try out the viewfinders, but quickly learnt that on a submarine, if you talk when the captain’s talking you won’t get permission to dive.

While waiting for the go-ahead, the room was dead silent.

“Okay you have clearance,” Mr Buchanan-Dunlop said. “Now dive! Dive! Dive!”

Students held the viewfinders to their faces. After a few seconds there were gasps of amazement and then pandemonium reigned as the students ventured deep below the ocean for the first time.

“I see something! I see something!” one called out.

Many seemed to forget they were actually in the school gym.

Shouted another: “I see fish!”

Fish are what scientists look for on real expeditions, Mr Buchanan-Dunlop explained. “They might give us vital clues to conditions in the ocean,” he said. “That is what we are trying to learn more about.” After putting down the viewfinders, the students trooped outside to learn more about submarine ballast.

Mr Buchanan-Dunlop placed a pen cap in a bottle filled with water while students added modelling clay to the cap to see how much would make it sink. Then they tried squeezing the bottle to make the cap float again.

“This is really a physics lesson,” said Mr Buchanan-Dunlop. “When I learnt about ballast in school it was so dry. It’s important to give context to things. I tell the students if you want to be a submarine engineer you need to understand this. If you go into the ocean without understanding the science, it can get very dangerous.”

The strategy seemed to work with at least two 10-year-olds.

“If I ever got to drive a submarine I’d go to Cameroon or off the coast of Bermuda,” said Zakee Doers.

His buddy, Sa-Qui Robinson, was intent on seeing killer sharks on his submarine dive.

Responded Zakee: “You wouldn’t see those kind of sharks off Bermuda. You’d probably only see sucker sharks.”

At the end of the experiment Mr Buchanan-Dunlop asked: “OK, who’d like to go to the Arctic?”

There was a chorus of “Me! Me! I want to go to the Arctic.”

“Okay,” said Mr Buchanan-Dunlop. “Before we go back to the gym, let me ask you a question: how many penguins do you think you’ll see in the Arctic?”

There were guesses of 50, 100, a million. It was a trick question, of course. Penguins live in the Antarctic. The children eventually got it.

Once back in the gym, they donned their viewfinders and, just like that, they were in the Arctic without even needing a coat.

During the scientist’s two-hour visit, students also made edible coral polyps out of bananas, digestive cookies, red string candy, jam and green sprinkles. They also got to test their endurance to the cold by dipping their arms into buckets of ice water. But as exciting as the experiments were, the viewfinders stole the show.

“I was a little scared at first,” said Tharusha Amarasingha, 9. “But I got used to it.”

Nine-year-old Makeila Wainwright agreed. “I thought it was amazing too,” she said. “That was the first time I ever got to see the bottom of the ocean.”

Prospect Primary science teacher Tanya Rayner loved seeing her students’ enthusiasm.

“I think it helped them better understand how animals adapt in the Arctic,” she said. “It was valuable as it exposed students to various occurrences they would not usually come into contact with, such as the coral reefs and the animals that live there.

“It was extremely educational for this group of students.”

Mr Buchanan-Dunlop also visited Victor Scott Primary School, Clearwater Middle School and Northlands Primary School. He also did broadcasts from Trunk Island in Harrington Sound and the North Rock tank at the Aquarium, to 10,000 students around the world.

“We didn’t film from underwater,” he said. “But we were able to put our cameras in the water and aim at things of interest.”

Visit http://bit.ly/2AvT454.

Searching for fish: student Tharusha Aramasingha takes a virtual dive on a submarine using a viewfinder
Dameko Abrahams exploring a submarine using a viewfinder (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Zakee Doers watches Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop demonstrating ballast (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Prospect Primary School student MyCah Maragh having fun with a viewfinder (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Jai Simmons and Savion Benjamin sharing a viewfinder at Prospect Primary School (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Clearwater Middle School student Kiara Cheeseman  makes an edible coral polyp (Photograph by Rolf Martin)
Clearwater Middle School student Rajah Worrell makes an edible coral polyp (Photograph by Rolf Martin)
Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, co-founder of Digital Explorer, broadcasting from the Arctic last year (Photograph supplied)
Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, co-founder of Digital Explorer, broadcasting from the Arctic last year (Photograph supplied)