Where the kids see fun, the adults see the future.

When middle school students convene this weekend at Loyola Marymount University to engineer remotely operated vehicles and test them underwater, they will also be developing the skills that scientists and ocean experts think they’ll need to address environmental problems decades from now.

“The exercise of designing and building ROVs as a team is a great introduction to problem-solving and the challenges associated with marine research and conservation,” said Tom Ford, the executive director of The Bay Foundation. “And to be completely frank, it’s a lot of fun.”

The workshop Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles is a future-focused event for Ford’s nonprofit group, which was founded in 1990 to protect local coastal waters. The organization works with leaders in government, business and science to improve the sustainability of Santa Monica Bay.

The workshop highlights a budding partnership between the foundation and The Ocean School, a Playa Vista-based independent educational institution that will focus on marine science and environmental stewardship when it opens in the fall of 2017.

“The challenges and benefits of the work The Bay Foundation is committed to is multi-generational,” Ford said. “By working with these young students and The Ocean School, we engage a new generation in the exploration of our coast.”

Workshop attendees will learn about buoyancy and physics in small teams and then construct ROVs, which will be tested in an underwater obstacle course at the university pool. The activities will incorporate skills in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

“21st-century learning applies a new set of approaches to instruction that actively engage the students in their education and require them to apply their learning to real-world challenges,” Ocean School founder Jeff McConaghy said in a press release. “Students are empowered to move beyond just thinking about the world’s problems towards actually solving them.”

Those problems include numerous water-related issues, including sea level rise and other challenges associated with climate change. Ocean acidification and ongoing nitrification — and the potential ecological consequences — are also topics of concern.

Which is where the remote-controlled vehicles come in.

“Our ocean, even off the coast of Los Angeles, is still largely unexplored and poorly understood,” Ford said. “Remote sensing and remotely operated vehicles will take technology to places divers can’t go. These tech platforms are an increasingly important aspect of oceanographic exploration. I’m certain that remote technologies will be the wave of the future that informs the preservation of life and a healthy ocean for the coming century.”

Ford said he hopes the event gets the middle schoolers thinking about the roles they’ll play in the future.

“Their future starts with us, today,” Ford said. “So today we aspire to instill the understanding and confidence in these young minds that they can make the world a better place.”

For more information, visit www.theoceanschool.org/ocean-school-events/rov-design-workshop.

jeff@smdp.com

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