Engineering a Better Future with Virtual Beach Trip

By Jennifer Bray












You are the mayor of a coastal town. A wild storm is threatening to destroy your beaches. You need a plan.

For resources you are given a sky-blue box filled with: 5 rocks, 1 suction cup, plastic grass, tiny sponges, oyster shells, a sand bag the size of a Chapstick and several popsicle sticks.

This was the scenario that played out for 125 students on Tuesday at Providence’s DelSesto Middle School. They took part in the New England Aquarium’s Engineering & Erosion program.

The lesson challenges students to address the issues of local coastal erosion through the engineering design process, with an emphasis on communication and collaboration.  For more than ten years, National Grid has been honored to partner with City Year, which makes lessons like this one possible.

During period 3, Devon is busy rummaging through the technology box, searching for tools to help his 7th-grade classmates stop erosion in their town. Wearing a bright red sweatshirt and a grin, Devon is happy for the chance to learn interactively. “This is better being off technology,” said Devon. A lot of the learning at DelSesto Middle School centers around students working independently on Chrome Books. “I like the way we get to work in teams and it’s better than mostly working on Chrome Books,” Devon said.

More than thirty students work in teams to employ engineering designs to plan, test and present solutions to limit sand erosion from their own section of simulated coastline, re-created in a plastic tub with sand and water. They are given a lighthouse to perch in the sand and to figure out how to protect the lighthouse from the water and how to protect the rest of the beach from erosion.

“The point of this lesson about erosion is to inspire them to care,” said Bailey Mudge, a program educator with the New England Aquarium. “These students live on the coastline and it’s important for them to know what’s harmful and how they can help. These kinds of program can be inaccessible for many school districts and donors (like National Grid) allow for enrichment, especially in this school to give kids a hands-on experience and gives them a break from the screen.”

National Grid’s community work focuses on engineering, research and development skills central to its business activities. For more than a decade, National Grid has been honored to partner with City Year to create a positive influence on the students and communities that it serves.

“For National Grid to get these materials into schools matters,” said Nicholas Bernardo, the School Culture Coordinator for DelSesto Middle School. “This gives student a chance for fun and also to get a practical application. National Grid has always been a really strong advocate of City Year and of us.”

Ionela Turcine teaches 7th and 8th grade science at the school. She is busy moving around the tables, interacting with the dozens of chattering students. She says lessons like Engineering & Erosion presented by the New England Aquarium staff keep the students extremely engaged.

“I am proud of how well they are doing,” said Turcine. She added that the students have taken part in two other engineering projects this school year. “Instead of them sitting down at their computers, they are doing great work on applying and discussing and this is where they show their growth.”

Adama is 13 years-old and is in the 7th grade. He is busy discussing the mock town and the best ways to protect it from erosion with classmates Aaviaan and Devon. They debate the pros and cons of what they’ve engineered. “I like that we are working on experiments and it is hands-on,” Adama said. Staff from the New England Aquarium help the students evaluate what they’ve created.

Eryn Hopper is also a program educator with the New England Aquarium. She leads the lesson for the period 3 class. “We try to delve deeper and let kids know that when they are looking at the beach and spot a seawall, what the reason for that wall might be and why it’s there,” Hopper said. “We don’t want to scare them about climate change but want to let them know how we all can help.”

That spirit of inclusion is one that resonates with Theresa Dougherty, she is the Development Director at City Year Providence. “I think when we all partner together we can provide learning resources for our students and give them news to learn and explore outside of Chrome Books,” Dougherty said. “We live in the Ocean State and not everyone gets to learn about natural resources around them. I love that we can bring this program into schools and teach them about saving the coast line.”






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