Deep thoughts: Submarine program beckons local students

JULIE LANE PHOTO Dreaming big, Shelter Island science teacher Dan Williams wants his students to participate in a submarine program sponsored by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Dreaming big, Shelter Island science teacher Dan Williams wants his students to participate in a submarine program sponsored by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Increasingly innovative teaching calls for hands-on experience and imagination, something Shelter Island science teacher Dan Williams has long embraced. So instead of showing his students pictures or video of the Peconic Bay bottoms, Mr. Williams wants to take them there.

In cooperation with Brookhaven National Laboratory students can board a submarine and conduct experiments on the bay bottoms and, perhaps, the surrounding ocean.

It’s all part of a program BNL and the nonprofit Oceans Wide of Maine have developed to link students with scientists. With the submersibles at work in Maine and the Arctic during winter and summer months, the opportunity to develop a school program during the fall and spring presented itself during a February conference Mr. Williams attended with other science teachers who collaborate on BNL educational projects.

As he listened to stories about some of the experiments BNL and Oceans Wide conducted, he thought about the possibilities that could exist here.

This is a chance to “get down deep and see what’s happening there,” he said. Among those he would target as the first to participate would be students in his marine class and members of the science club. If room allows, he would want to extend the opportunity to others involved with environmental studies.

“They’re excited,” he said about the students. The challenge is to raise between $3,000 and $6,000, some of which might come from BNL or foundations with which Brookhaven works. But most of the money likely would have to be raised on Shelter Island, he said.

He knows that students have had to do a lot of fund raising to support various activities and civic organizations and business owners have been consistently pressed to contribute to various programs. Still, he’s hoping there are those who can dig deep to help launch a program that will enhance the learning experience for his budding scientists.

“It’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m hoping it happens sooner rather than later.”

If funds can be found, there could be a program in place by the fall with a repeat program next spring. Besides learning to maneuver the submarine, students could map eelgrass beds, track the development of scallop seedlings and examine heavy metal content in soils to.

“It’s a bonanza of work,” Mr. Williams said.

He envisions an initial program that could enable 40 students to participate would expand to other school districts that could share costs of bringing a submarine to local waters for a week or two.

“If I had my way, every day we’d be outside or working in a lab and never sit at these desks,” Mr. Williams said about the opportunity to learn by doing instead of only reading and listening to lectures.

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