Once again, a team of students from Dahlgren School qualified for the International SeaPerch Competition, to be held at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on June 1-3. This marks the fifth time that students from the school have dominated at the regional competition and the fourth time that they will compete in the international competition.
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)- based competition provides the teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), while exposing students to important engineering and design skills, as well as exciting careers that are possible in naval architecture and naval, ocean and marine engineering.
The team competed in the SeaPerch Annual Regional Competition on March 1 at the University of Mary Washington against 57 other local teams. Following the competition, two of Dahlgren School’s three teams moved forward to the international competition.
Six Dahlgren students – Mia, Ashley, and Kaili, Jude, Ryan and Josh – comprised the two teams “Baby Narwhals” and the “Lucky Charms.”
Science teacher Ann Doyle used the SeaPerch curriculum teaching the students basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. Throughout the course, the students learn engineering concepts, problem-solving, teamwork and technical applications.
Social studies teacher Maureen Holt who has also been a part of the SeaPerch program at Dahlgren sees great value in what the program has provided the students throughout the last five years.
“The program is fantastic and it reinforces STEM standards with hands-on experiences of building, operating, making changes, and competing,” Holt said.
The students agreed that teamwork was a major lesson learned, in addition to the engineering skills they acquired.
“The coolest part of this experience for me was the teamwork. We learned through the process our strengths and weaknesses and used that information to create the best team possible,” Kaili said.
Each student built their ROV from a kit that included PVC pipe and other low-cost, easily accessible materials; designs had to adhere to very specific guidelines, including the number of thrusters, a 12-volt power supply and how much money they are allowed to spend on their vehicle. Over the course of two months, the students built, tested and refined their designs.
Throughout practice runs at the Aquatics Center aboard Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren, the students realized that different strengths and weaknesses in their ROV designs as well as in their “driving” skills. In addition to completing an effective design, the students had to navigate an underwater obstacle course and perform tasks guided by a remote control; competitors were also judged on the speed of their vehicle. The team’s ability to have access to the Aquatics Center was an invaluable asset for them to hone those remove driving and maneuvering skills and judge the speed and performance of their ROVs.
“We ran speed trials at the pool and then we took the Perch with the fastest time and used that one,” Ashley explained.
When the final SeaPerch were completed, the teams had narrowed their units down to the best performing one per team.
In addition to their newly-gained teamwork and engineering skills, the team had to refine their public speaking skills as well. A component of the competition requires them to present their design and an engineering notebook to the panel of judges. For the weeks leading up to the Regional Competition, the students had to journal and work through putting together the notebook, including illustrations, documenting their engineering design process and specific steps they took in the design and modification process. According to Doyle, this was the least favorite aspect of the competition for the students; the students themselves readily agreed.
“For two weeks after school, they worked on their journals with graphics and the processes and labeled what they did every step of the way,” Doyle said.
Doyle and the team would like to thank everyone who assisted in their journey, most especially Liz Kwasniak, the manager of the Dahlgren Aquatics Center.
“Liz has supported the STEM teams year in and year out, convenient or not, and we wouldn’t be able to do this if Liz didn’t allow us to come over and find a lifeguard for us in the middle of the day,” Doyle said. “We are really grateful to her and her team for their support.”
In June, the students will compete against nearly 100 other teams from around the globe at the International SeaPerch Challenge. The teams will be judged by a panel of engineers, educators and other professionals. Best of luck to the students in the upcoming competition!