Teaching Students About Marine Technology


Middle school students launch a Remotely Operated Vehicle at a Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) competition. Photo credit: MATE CENTER

Middle school students launch a Remotely Operated Vehicle at a Marine Advanced
Technology Education (MATE) competition. Photo credit: MATE CENTER

“We use marine technology as a hook to teach engineering and technology,” says Deidre Sullivan, director and principal investigator of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center in Monterey, California. “There is a need for engineers, and especially technicians with applied engineering skills. There are a lot of these jobs in the marine field, but also in advanced manufacturing, renew[able] energy, and in many other sectors of the economy. We focus on getting students into the workforce by expanding the pipeline for [them] to enter science, technology, engineering, and math programs.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the MATE Center works with secondary schools, community colleges, universities, research institutions, marine industries, professional societies, and working professionals to develop curricula and courses in marine technology, underwater robotics, marine geospatial technology, career awareness, and ocean observing systems. MATE provides professional development (PD) for faculty; conducts underwater robotics competitions for students; and offers internships for college students.

For MATE competitions, “we start with building simple underwater robots (Remotely Operated Vehicles, ROVs) to help students understand electronics and how to apply math to solve real-world problems,” Sullivan relates. Students learn about “electronics, mechanics, hydraulics, and computer controls,…which are important to robotics and automation,” she explains. “With many high-tech occupations, we see a convergence of these skills, and with this knowledge, students can go into many different fields.”

MATE and the Marine Technology Society, a nonprofit professional organization, hold international ROV competitions for students in grades 4–16. The competitions have a “strong entrepreneurial component,” says Sullivan. Students form a company and serve as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, engineering lead, marketing lead, and in other positions, and solve real-world problems. “They learn how to follow timelines, budgets, and specifications. They produce technical documentation and marketing displays and give oral presentations to professionals. They learn how to communicate their knowledge of robotics and how to work together as a team,” she relates.

Learn more and access free curricula at www.marinetech.org.

Building SeaPerch ROVs

By building an underwater ROV through the SeaPerch program, teachers and students from sixth grade through college can learn about naval architecture and ocean engineering. Funded by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research and managed by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation, SeaPerch is “a national outreach program with a kit, an expanded curriculum, a website, and local and national challenge competitions,” says Susan Nelson, Sea Perch’s founder and executive director. The program has grown from “750 students in two school districts in 2007 to 300,000 students [nationwide], and has expanded into nine countries as of 2015,” she reports.

Teacher PD is offered at sites around the country or online (learn more at www.seaperch.org). “SeaPerch is very flexible and maps well to many learning outcomes,” Nelson notes, and can be used in after-school robotics clubs or taught in school. Building the ROV takes “an average of nine to 40 hours of class time,” she reports.

Participation in SeaPerch competitions isn’t mandatory; “we suggest that you just need to put the ROV in the water to test it,” she maintains.

In surveys, says Nelson, 90% of students said SeaPerch “increased my confidence in my ability to participate in engineering projects or activities,” 74% said it “made me decide to take different classes in school than I had planned to,” and 83% said SeaPerch “made me decide to work harder in school.”

A Year-Long Fellowship

Based at University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Inner Space Center and University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, the Marine Technology for Teachers and Students (MaTTS; http://mattsproject.org) Project aims “to encourage high school teachers to connect engineering and technology with marine science,” says Project Manager Andrea Gingras. “We train teachers in how to build and use underwater ROVs, sensors, and hydrophones (microphones that detect sound waves underwater).”

Open to teachers in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, MaTTS is in its third and final year of NSF funding. “We’re hoping to expand the program nationally,” notes Gingras.

During their year-long MaTTS fellowship, for which they receive a stipend, teachers engage with ocean scientists and engineers in person and virtually; build and deploy the technological instruments; and teach students how to build and deploy them during an intensive five-day summer institute. Students develop a cruise plan for a mock ocean expedition and participate in “scientist speed-dating,” conversing one-on-one with marine scientists and engineers, says Gingras. “We expose students to the many careers associated with marine science, [such as] marine archaeologists, ocean engineers, and physical and geological oceanographers—not just marine biologists. There’s a whole other world to explore.”

Teachers and students share what they’ve learned with colleagues and students in their school and district. “Our goal is to develop teacher-leaders and student-leaders,” Gingras asserts.

“Marine technology is part of the future everywhere. A large portion of our population lives on the coasts,” says Alison Murray, science teacher at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, a member of the second MaTTS cohort. “The more students know about the ocean, the better.”

MaTTS offered “a great opportunity to work with [scientists] at the forefront of the field,” says Murray. For her inner-city students, “this was huge because they don’t have access to lots of professionals and role models.” Murray has incorporated the sensors in her engineering classes. “I got up to date on the technology and how I could incorporate it in my classes. Working with elite marine scientists provided intellectual satisfaction,” she contends.

“I learned an awful lot from the other teachers…The scientists answer our questions and help arrange field trips to their workplaces or field studies. It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” she concludes.


This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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About Debra Shapiro

Associate Editor of member newspaper, NSTA Reports (www.nsta.org/publications/nstareports.aspx). Editor of Freebies for Science Teachers (www.nsta.org/publications/freebies.aspx) and NSTA Calendar (www.nsta.org/publications/calendar) pages. Follow me on Twitter: @Debra_NSTA
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1 Response to Teaching Students About Marine Technology

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