Unbounded Success by Michelle Hollander

Seventy-two students from Success Academies arrived at the WaterFront Center early on the morning May 16th to kick-off three days packed with events. Students explored the marine environment through educational sails aboard Christeen, where they conducted water quality tests and trawled the benthic community to see what lives on the bay floor. Further study was directed towards the shoreline with water quality testing to compare salinity, pH, nitrate, and turbidity with their readings from the harbor. Seine nets were used to collect and identify small fish while plankton tows were pulled along the dock so that students could observe the microscopic world in our ecology lab. Students scoured the beach and left no stone unturned in a study of invasive species focused on collecting, measuring, and sexing Asian shore crabs.
The fun didn’t stop there though! In the classroom, students worked together to determine the most important tools for survival if they were lost at sea: such as a jug of water, a shaving mirror, a mixture of oil and gasoline, a tarp and other common boating items. The lessons learned at the WaterFront Center relate to a project back at the Success Academies where students are designing a survival shelter for hikers stranded during a snowstorm. This application also focuses heavily on thermodynamics – and therefore, we focused the rest of our field trip curriculum on energy transformations. Scholars were provided with fact cards, acting as the building blocks to how land and sea breezes are formed. By disseminating the fact cards, students were able to draw diagrams explaining the oscillating nature of shore breezes. On the water, we did speed tests so that students could later calculate the kinetic energy of the Sonars they sailed at different points-of-sail.
Each of these activities led up to our final STEAM question: How can we use the wind’s kinetic energy? On the water, that meant understanding more about how to position the sails; but on land, it meant converting wind energy into usable mechanical energy to do work. With our wind turbine kits from Vernier, scholars were able to focus on just building the blades. A successful design would be able to lift a small bucket up the entire height of the windmill. Each group tried out different ideas and explored different variables such as number of blades, blade shape, blade size, and even blade pitch (angle). Having the blades on an angle was vital – otherwise the wind could not turn the blades. Some groups accounted for this by designing blades that looked like three-dimensional airplane wings. Having the right amount of wind was also crucial.
The following week, sixty-six more students from Success Academy schools in Harlem and the Bronx arrived for the same program. Many of these students have never been on a sailboat before, some have never set foot on a beach! Our goal is to help these students make connections between their curriculum, the natural world, and real life applications so they become more informed citizens when confronting topics like windfarms, the marine environment, and the policies surrounding them. The WaterFront Center, our staff and our facilities provide a unique opportunity for students to make these connections in a way that is truly an enriching and rewarding experience.