Students and teachers collecting information and video from the Sandusky River and sharing it with elementary students through virtual reality goggles is the goal of a $45,000 grant awarded to North Central Ohio Educational Service Center and it partners by Ohio EPA.
Teacher training is to begin Feb. 5 on the project, called Watershed Dynamics for 21st Century Learners: The Riparian Ecosystem.
Teachers from Tiffin City Schools, Buckeye Central, North Central Academy, Old Fort and Seneca East as well as three others in other parts of Ohio are to learn how to use 3D cameras for science, virtual reality goggles and 3D printers — the types of technology needed for the project they will be teaching their students in grades 7-12.
Kathy Mohr, director of technology and professional development for NCOESC and project director, said the technology and training are designed to help teachers and students make the connection between the knowledge they gain in the classroom and online experiences and real-world application.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the teachers, students and community members to explore the watershed around us,” Mohr said.
Teachers and students are to study the riparian environment — or the treelined edges — of the Sandusky River this spring and again in the fall to find out how the river is impacted by invasive species, microplastics and humans and how the riparian area acts as a buffer.
Teachers are to receive instruction from Jakob Boehler on using GoPro underwater cameras for shooting three-dimensional video along the river in concert with iPad tablet computers. They then will pass along the information to students.
“GoPros are great because they can actually get wet. They can go to the edge of the stream and find out what’s under the water at the edge,” said Boehler, who is affiliate with three of the grant partners – lab technician with Heidelberg’s National Center for Water Quality Research, coordinator of the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition and board member for Seneca County Park District.
“They can study the health of the trees and the specific environment based on trees,” said Mohr, who is teaching a section about using virtual reality goggles.
She said video to be collected is to be divided into lessons and placed into programs that can be seen by students in classrooms using virtual reality goggles.
“They’ll create lessons that can be put in the glasses for further instruction,” she said. “Then they’ll be added to a worldwide library of classes available.”
“They’re going to make lessons for younger kids,” Boehler said. “They (elementary students) are going to be able to sit down and put on the goggles and see riparian videos.
“We had initially wanted to do drones, but Ohio EPA wasn’t sure what their drone policy is,” Boehler said. “But we liked this idea. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it being done using the GoPros.”
Also during the professional development day, teachers are to learn how to use 3D printers to create landscapes from the video collected using an i-Tree program, which, according to its website, is “a state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software suite from the USDA Forest Service that provides urban and rural forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools.
The website said “i-Tree tools can help strengthen forest management and advocacy efforts by quantifying forest structure and the environmental benefits that trees provide.”
The VR classes are offered by Project Learning, an initiative of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, that “uses trees and forests as windows on the world to increase students’ understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it,” according the Project Learning Tree website.
Since 1976, the website said PLT has reached 138 million students and trained 765,000 educators to help students learn “how to think, not what to think” about complex environmental issues.
“Project Learning Tree helps develop students’ awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of the environment, builds their skills and ability to make informed decisions, and encourages them to take personal responsibility for sustaining the environment and our quality of life that depends on it,” the website said.
Mohr said the lessons will show the vegetation along the river and add to information in PLT’s Focus on Forests and will be able to be compared to other areas.
Two local people who haven’t been identified yet are to be trained on the Project Learning Tree curriculum as part of the grant.
After the grant ends, the partner organizations such as the watershed coalition and the park district will keep the cameras and iPads to continue programming and research on the river and wherever else they might be useful.
In addition to the schools and NCOESC, partners in the project include National Center for Water Quality Research, Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, Seneca County Park District and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry. The schools in other parts of Ohio taking part are Leetonia and Lisbon exempted village school districts.
Last fall, Mohr said NCOESC and its partners scored in the top three of submitted grant applications with a score of 162 of 170 possible points.
When deciding what type of grant to apply for, Boehler said they decided to tie the application to past projects to “build on what we had already done.”
“We tied it to the riparian area,” he said. “Why the riparian systems are important to the river as a whole.”
“NCOESC, area environmental agencies and teachers collaboratively set the goals and learning activities for this grant,” Mohr said. “This grant will take learning to a high-tech level by having high school students produce virtual reality lessons for elementary students to experience using VR glasses. Students will use 3D imaging devices to create environmental models based on their findings.”
The project is the third grant received by NCOESC from Ohio EPA related to learning about the Sandusky River.
The first was a $15,000 Martha Holden Jennings Foundation grant in 2008, and in 2012 the group received a $45,000 grant from Ohio EPA.
In 2012, the grant project was awarded the Ohio Environmental Education Fund Outstanding Project Award.
“The educational service center is in the perfect position to pull school districts together for
collaboration,” Mohr said. “The first one started the idea of studying the Sandusky River. In the past we’ve studied the actual stream, looked at invertebrates, phosphorus levels and the health of the river.
“We’ve studied the stream a couple times so this time we’re looking at the riparian area,” she said.
At the end of grant activities, Mohr said students will put together a culminating project to share what they’ve learned, and Boehler said the watershed coalition plans to provide a venue where students can share their project with the public.
“I’m excited about this project,” Mohr said.
In addition to creating lessons, she said the project provides hands-on learning and a taste of careers in science that students might be interested in pursuing.
“It’s not just textbooks,” she said. “They’re in the study area along the riverbanks.”