Moving beyond MySpace, Facebook

May 13, 2010

BY MICHELLE L. QUINN, POST-TRIBUNE CORRESPONDENT

HAMMOND — The Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajokul, caught the attention of Hammond’s seventh-graders, but only in the most passing sense since they had bigger holes upon which to stumble.

Specifically, the whereabouts of a volcano at the bottom of the ocean off the Aleutian Islands had their rapt attention Wednesday, and students from Gavit Middle School found it in the Purdue University Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation. Instead of waiting for it to erupt and throw the ocean traffic into chaos, the 1,100 students used their science, math and computer skills to locate their volcano.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, the students needed 3-D glasses to view the ocean “floor,” as it was projected onto the lab floor.

In its second year in the Hammond School System, the Exploration Earth: Mission Ocean curriculum combines physical science, math and social studies in an interactive setting, said Center Director Robert Rivers. The students learn their mission at the start of the school, and they participate in various exercises throughout the year.

The final mission brings the kids to the center where, through information provided by the Office of Naval Research, they find whatever they’re supposed to through a simulated submarine program. They’re divided up into divers, drivers, and researchers, and have 45 minutes to find their object — in this case, the volcano.

“They had two probes to use: a temperature probe to detect heat coming off the volcano, and a sulphur dioxide probe, because volcanoes emit sulphur dioxide,” Rivers said. “They also use concepts in physical science as well as longitude and latitude, polar coordinates, and social studies.”

An added bonus is the kids learn to work in groups, which will be important as they go on in school and work, Rivers added. And it brings the wonder of computer technology down to a level they can understand.

“Kids live in the world of ‘Avatar,’ but they’re so far removed from it. The program bridges the gap and brings the educational project into the 21stcentury,” he said. “If they get excited about it now, they’ll continue to be excited in high school.”

Rivers was especially pleased to see the girls in the classes so interested in the science behind it all. Mission Captains Shelby Geurts and Marqui Glinsey, and Diver Akia Maxwell, are looking forward to more science classes in high school.

“This showed me there are more things in life than MySpace and Facebook,” Shelby said.