Boothbay Region High School

Across the great divide

Boothbay, Australian students interact in virtual water study
Posted:  Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 6:30pm

Although they are oceans apart, students from Boothbay Region High School and Australian students will work together as part of a virtual science program in March.

BRHS is one of eight U.S. high schools selected to work alongside eight Australian high schools in a project to study water cycles within their respective communities. Each school was selected because of their strong environmental science programs.

Cynthia Heil, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, wrote the grant proposal for the project, “How Sustainable Is Your Local Water Cycle.”

Heil said BRHS has been paired with a high school on the island of Tasmania, due to its comparable temperate, climate and latitudes. Heil said the other participating U.S. schools are in Maryland, California, Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina.

In addition to the differing geographic areas, the schools selected represent cross-sections of ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds.

“If this is successful, this project will almost be a prototype for using the Web to teach and for international collaboration,” Heil said.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge is the lead institution in this collaborative study, the U.S.-Australia Virtual Environmental Partnership (under the overall program, Global Connections Exchange) in collaboration with Bigelow in East Boothbay, and Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia.

All three partners collaboratively created the project made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Heil said she has collaborated with University of Maryland scientist, Bill Dennison when he was at the University of Queensland in Australia. Dennison's wife, researcher and assistant professor at UMCES is currently collaborating on one of Heil's red tide grants.

Lauren Graham, oceanography, chemistry, biology and ecology teacher at Boothbay Region High School, applied for the school after Heil encouraged her. Graham attended an education program at Bigelow for teachers of oceanography classes.

“... I am local and have wanted to do something like this with BRHS. Lauren's knowledge and enthusiasm for the program was noticed by (research scientist) David Fields who recommended her to me,” Heil said.

Teachers will be asked to help nominate some students for the program. Graham said her oceanography and ecology classes are open to juniors and seniors; with prerequisites of chemistry and biology for oceanography. She said she expects to have 15 students in her spring ecology class.

“We will learn about the water use in our own community and compare that to water use data compiled by the other schools,” Graham said. “We may have the opportunity to present our data to the State Department in Washington, D.C.

“The students know this is a serious project that will require time, reflection and their best efforts – and they are excited about it.”

Students will conduct their research in teams of four to eight members and interact with overseas partner teams via Skype (as time zones allow), online interactive forums and webinars; the project website, and the “information warehouse” on the site.

Students will collect water samples, interpret results and present a scientific hypotheses. Students will compare and contrast methods in the other country, and grade their own community's water cycle, based on its environmental and ecological sustainability.

Graham will be joining the other U.S. teachers for instructional workshops outside of Washington D.C. in late February. At that time, they will also help Heil and the other scientists involved in creating some of the education modules to be used in the project.

Heil, the coordinator and administrator of the project, said once the project is underway, she and her peers will act as science advisers to the participants.

The goal is to promote responsible stewardship of water resources and to foster interest in environmental sciences because, as Heil wrote about the students in the grant proposal, “… their generation will face unique environmental challenges of global significance, including the need to at least double water productivity.”