August 1, 2008

Students Explore Science in Lowcountry

By Aliana Ramos, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Aug. 1--Waccamaw High School rising junior Serena Nesmith, 16, had never walked on a salt marsh, never picked up a fish and didn't know much about hurricanes, even though she lives in an area where hurricanes occur.

But now because of the Jason project, she does.

Nesmith and 19 other Georgetown County teens shared their experiences with about 50 parents, educators and school officials Thursday at the J.B. Beck Administration Building in Georgetown.

The teens were the first high-schoolers in the nation to participate in National Geographic's Jason project's hands-on seminar, said Ron Harrison, lead trainer for the project, which is designed to take students out of the classroom and into different ecosystems to do real fieldwork. It also focuses on using data to make real-world applications to help get students excited about science.

"These activities are exactly what scientists do: They do soil sampling, water testing," Harrison said. "This is the 21st century. All that's talked about is hands-on learning and job based activities."

The 20 teens, from all four of the Georgetown County School District's high schools, spent part of their summer measuring cypress trees, predicting hurricanes and studying swamp crabs.

During the week students had a visit with a storm chaser who talked about identifying hurricanes. Students were also asked to build a home out of paper and other craft materials that could survive hurricane-level winds and rains. The winds were supplied by a leaf blower, and the rains came from a bucket of water, Harrison said.

"I learned that meteorology is a wide-open field and they have much more to do than predicting the weather on the news. They help us plan for life-threatening disasters," Nesmith said.

The Jason Project was founded in 1989 by Robert D. Ballard, who became famous for discovering what was left of the Titanic.

According to the project's Web site, the mountain of letters Ballard received from students after the Titanic mission inspired him to create his own science curriculum. He named the program after Jason, the mythological Greek explorer.

More than 10 million students and teachers have taken part since Ballard began the program.

Six Georgetown County science teachers were also involved in the weeklong seminar.

The students will also participate in monthly online courses that will reinforce the lessons throughout the year and will mentor middle schoolers in next summer's program.

Georgetown High School rising junior Andrew Benge had never visited Hobcaw Barony and its marshes.

"I really didn't think South Carolina had anything important, and I know differently now," Benge said. "We have a bunch of local ecosystems. Actually my favorite thing was going out and doing stuff. Normally we work out of our textbooks. We don't have as much hands-on learning as we should. If I'm reading a book I'm likely to fall asleep. If I'm actually out there standing knee-deep in swamp water I'm less likely to fall asleep."

Contact ALIANA RAMOS at 357-9520.


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