NatGeo Student Expeditions 2019

Jimmy Day/MIT ML

Monday — Tuesday
July 29, 2019 —
July 30, 2019

For National Geographic Student Expeditions 2019, Open Ocean Initiative developed a 2-day curriculum for the 50 international high school student participants that embodied our broader efforts: creating a global community of explorers and maximizing the efficiency of discovery. Students had a MIT-style mens et manus deep dive into ocean exploration and engineering with a dash of the Media Lab 4 P’s (projects, peers, passion, play) and a splash of water thanks to our workshop host, MIT Sea Grant.

We gave students the skills and tools to build their own water explorer, the Pontoon Explorer, a small remote control surface boat that has a temperature sensor and LED temperature indicator. This platform was made of low cost electronics and hardware store parts and the BBC micro:bit, an approachable microcontroller that is affordable and available in many parts of the world. The goal was to inspire and enable students to continue to explore their local environment through their own engineering designs and prototypes long after the event.

We issued a challenge to each team: build and program the Pontoon Explorer and design a scientific cruise plan that would identify surface water plumes as either ambient temperature or hot, thermal plumes. Student teams constructed, programmed, tested, and iterated on their Pontoon Explorers at the MIT Sea Grant teaching lab and test tank. Our workshop exposed them to basic electrical and ocean engineering concepts such as circuitry, buoyancy and hydrodynamics. During this workshop they were introduced to block code programming using Microsoft MakeCode and experienced examples of sophisticated programming and applications that can be achieved with block code. 

The 2-day curriculum was devised to engage all students at all times by diversifying and staging the activities including technical, artistic, and soft skills. We fostered team collaboration by defining specific roles that needed to be fulfilled to get each phase of work done on time, building up to the final test of their Pontoon Explorer in the MIT Sea Grant test tank met with the cheering support of their peers and MIT volunteers.

The success of this event was made possible by the loan of Chromebooks from the Media Lab’s Personal Robots group, use of MIT Sea Grant’s facilities, and the help of numerous MIT undergraduates, MIT Sea Grant faculty and staff, and MIT Media Lab graduate students and staff that volunteered their time during the workshop. The Pontoon Explorer platform was developed by 2 MIT UROP students (Margaret Sullivan MechE '21 and Brian Wang EECS '22) and a high school intern (Peter Bell) with the guidance of Dr. Tom Consi from MIT Sea Grant.

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