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Full STEAM ahead for BHS

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Corey Eddy, PhD student showing students a dissection at BUEI.


STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) WEEK

By Michelle Frumkin

You know those pretty, glowing plastic necklaces that you wear for maybe a few hours at a party? Do you know what they look like after they’re been tossed in the ocean, or pulled away by the tide?

Brown. Ugly and brown. Those necklaces — and throwaway plastics in general — are just one of many threats to our oceans. They represent a call to action; a need to get going.

This was exactly what BHS students set about doing during the inaugural STEAM Week event held near the end of last school year. Over three days, students from Years 7, 8 and 9 — 180 in total — went all out for this new school initiative by focusing ways to protect the ocean around Bermuda, and in turn, the wider planet. Ocean STEAM Week featured a jam-packed agenda that encouraged students to seek new solutions to complex problems through the five components of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math. In this major undertaking, students formed groups to tackle one of four categories: ocean health, the lionfish epidemic, beach art or beach front development.

Along with BHS teachers, more than a dozen community players gave their time to STEAM Week, including scientists, activists and local entrepreneurs. “All of these organisations and people have given themselves, their time, their energy, their enthusiasm, their knowledge, and they have done it absolutely free,” said Addy Osset, Assistant Head of Secondary and a driving force behind the project.

Other lead teachers and planners included: Frances Cook, Julie Gunther, Paula Harrison, Andrew Jones and Jane Thorpe. These teachers and volunteers lectured and demonstrated both at BHS and in the field at large. Although there were no grades, expectations were high. The final project design was all up to the students, with no rules as to their final results. “This whole thing is a blank sheet of paper. They can do what they want,” said Paula Harrison, Head of Year 9.

STEAM education combines science, technology, engineering, art and math outside the traditional classroom. Until recently the acronym was only STEM. Art is a new addition, pushed by educators who believe science also needs thoughtful design and even beauty.

The impetus for STEAM Week came last winter when Deputy Head of School, Catherine Hollingsworth, challenged staff to come up with ways to “drive the school forward”. One of the ideas that came out of that was to use the end of the school year. Ms Osset said. “It’s a bit of a dead time. Exams are over. Kids are starting to tune out. (So we thought) why don’t we grab that time and do something with it?”

The Roar of the Fish

On day one, the lionfish group gathered around Corey Eddy, a PhD student from the University of Massachusetts, as he dissected a lionfish in the BHS science lab. This group’s task was to explore ways for dealing with the invasive lionfish that has taken over much of the warmer waters of the Atlantic. The lionfish, which has no natural predators, is threatening Bermuda in several ways, including the depletion of its reef. The group also heard from Dr Alex Amat, educator at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo (BAMZ) and Dr Joanna Pitt, Marine Resources Officer at the Department of Environmental Protection.

On this day, Eddy cracked off the venomous spines, the first step to dissecting the lionfish. It’s a task he’s done hundreds of times in his research. “It’s not a glamorous job,” he admitted to his attentive audience. As students snapped photos on their phones, they saw first-hand evidence of the wide-ranging and damaging appetite of this ocean feeder. When Mr Eddy broke open this fish’s stomach, he found three different kinds of crab.

Changes in permitting regulations in Bermuda, she said, have made them easier to catch. Now, for example, people can apply for a lionfish “culling” permit, which allows fishing closer to shore, but with a smaller spear. This group also visited the Lionfish Exhibit at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) and did their own fish survey while snorkelling.

One of the ways to fight lionfish, the students found, was to use them. Lionfish spine earrings, anyone? But to really make a difference, people don’t need to wear lionfish, they need to eat them. So at the end of the week, the group got out portable barbecues and grilled up some lionfish in the BHS courtyard, adding salsa, cheese and other toppings. The verdict? “It tasted like regular fish,” said Lizzie Luckashvili of Year 9.

Healthy Water

The Ocean Health Group explored what the damage plastics are doing by clogging our seas. As part of their research, students had the chance to hear from the 5Gyres Institute — an activist organisation that aims to free the oceans of plastic pollution. The name refers to “a network that circulates water around the world”. Due to Bermuda’s place in the Gulf Stream, plastic from all over the world ends up on its shores.

While at BIOS, students marked a 25-square-metre grid to measure the amount of plastic washed in on one particular high tide. They then weighed the debris and extrapolated how much plastic washes ashore in Bermuda on any particular day.

Students recalled startling examples presented during lectures at BIOS: a deformed turtle trapped in a plastic bottle ring; a mother albatross feeding plastic to her young and; a “shoenami” of sneakers from an overturned container.

In their beach survey, they found trash that had travelled a long way to get to Bermuda. The Island, for example, bans certain fishing implements, but that doesn’t mean a broken lobster trap from America can’t find its way here. “We could have just called (the fisherman) on the phone and said, ‘look you’re littering our ocean’,” said Freya Neame of Year 8. “The only thing we can do is to stop putting (the ocean trash) in,” Alison said.

The Science of Art

Seemingly, the least obvious project of Ocean STEAM Week was the beach art component. This wasn’t about playing in the sand with a pail and shovel. This was a large-scale piece of art that needed careful planning and science to execute it. The goal for this group was to create a design to be drawn in the sand. For practice, the students flew small drones over the BHS field. They would later use a larger, more sophisticated drone to photograph the final piece of art. To prepare, they spaced their designs out on a paper grid. They then used ropes to match that grid at the beach. Genevieve Lau of Year 7 said the scale drawings were the math part and the drone practicing the technical bit of STEAM. Combined they can form the art.

“For me STEAM in Beach Art is clear,” said Jane Thorpe, Head of Creative Arts at BHS and a lead teacher for this group, “The students explored the science behind tides, and erosion and how these impact the material with which they are working. They also learnt about the human impact on the beach.” The art side releases the creative potential of the project and as this was group work, the collaborative needs were important and the projects were effective because of it.”

Corinne Grandisson of Year 8 said her group’s art was initially too close to the water so the bottom kept getting washed away. They got it right, however, just as the drone was flying over.

Development on the Beach

The last piece of Ocean Week was beach development, a topic that forced students to take a stand. Students in this group heard from the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST), and local businesses, Yo Cherry Frozen Yogurt and Glaze Pastry and Bakery — interests which could be seen to have competing agendas.

Julie Gunther, Head of Science at BHS and this group’s lead teacher, said the topic was a sophisticated one for Middle School Students; strict rules dictate building on a beach; vocal community groups get involved.

Students learnt the economics of development, including how to conduct market research, from the BTA. “Just what do tourists want? When they went to Jobson’s Cove (to do their survey), they found (the tourists) really liked the serenity and the lack of ‘schmaltz’,” Ms Gunther said. “In the next couple of years, Bermuda will be in the ‘world’s eye’ because of the America’s Cup. We want to present the Bermuda product as glowingly as possible.”

Erin Jones (Year 8), proposed a “very affordable” mobile scuba shack with paddleboards, snorkels, bathing suits, hats and more. Rentals would be bleached and rinsed, according to the plan. The mobile business could be moved during bad weather, Erin said, and permits would be less complicated than for a permanent structure. Erin said in talking to the businesses they learnt that, “really it’s just about earning more money than you put in and giving people something they need.”

No one involved in the Beach Development Group wanted to bring anything tacky or extreme to Warwick Long Bay. But students clearly felt it needed an upgrade. Kameron Young and Emilie Konyecsni (Years 9) wanted to “brighten up a bit” a tired grey shack they found at the beach. In their poster, they gave the shack a new look of bright yellow and added supplies like bathing suits.

Catalina Michel, Year 9, said instead of competing with Horseshoe, the group looked at ways to make things better, safer, cleaner and also more meaningful. They suggested lifeguards, better-lit and cleaner bathrooms, plus foot washes that actually rinse the sand off.

Visitors come to Bermuda for its culture so why not bring it to the beach? This could mean having traditional Gombey Dancers perform here, she said, or staging a re-enactment of the founding of Bermuda. “When the students began their research, we thought you just handed over a few papers and some money and got started,” Catalina said. “We didn’t understand about process or about looking at the impact of development on the Island. “That really opened our eyes. In the end we realised the need for a balance.” This is just one of the many valuable lessons experienced and learnt during STEAM Week 2015.

JP Skinner at BIOS teaching Ocean Health to the students.