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Trans-Atlantic learning

Junior high students trace mini-boat's voyage to Ireland's West Coast

special feature: Community Collaboration

Part of a special feature that illuminates the synergistic relationship between individuals, communities and community organizations and Memorial, with a focus on Memorial’s supporting role to community-led work.


By Moira Baird

For 102 days, Grade 8 students at Frank Roberts Junior High in C.B.S. checked the daily progress of an unmanned, 1.5-meter mini-boat on its trans-Atlantic voyage.

Buffeted by Atlantic Ocean currents, winds and storms, the Fiberglas boat equipped with a keel, sail and global-positioning system (GPS) signalled its location to the watchful students twice daily during its 5,096-kilometre journey.

Twenty-one students in Tom Sheppard’s technology class took part in the international ocean regatta, held annually by Educational Passages, a U.S.-based, non-profit organization dedicated to global ocean literacy.

The Marine Institute’s School of Ocean Technology facilitated the students’ participation in the mini-boat regatta – acquiring the mini-boat kit, organizing the video competition with the mini-boat as the prize and hosting a day-long student workshop in advance of the launch.

The Raven KASTER’s journey.
Photo: Educational Passages

“In Grade 8 science, what we were talking about actually had a lot to do with the boat – oceans and ocean climates,” said Stephanie Evans, one of two students Mr. Sheppard describes as leaders of the project.

“It was a cool concept,” said Kaitlyn Grandy, another project leader. “I liked the journey of the boat the most. It was very interesting to watch the track that it took and wondering where it would be next.”

Both students, who are now in high school, enjoy science. Anything in particular?

“Everything,” they say at the same time.

From left are Stephanie Evans, Tom Sheppard and Kaitlyn Grandy in the technology lab at Frank Roberts Junior High.
Photo: Angie Bishop

Video challenge

The pair took up the challenge from Mr. Sheppard and science teacher Shawna Walsh and were instrumental in putting together the winning video submitted by Frank Roberts Junior High, the teachers say.

Ms. Evans and Ms. Grandy researched and narrated a 90-second video on the topic, How Oceans Affect Climate Change, and fellow student Eric Brown recorded and edited it.

Dubbed Raven KASTER, the name is a combination of the school mascot, Raven, and the first two letters in the first names of the team members who created the video: Kaitlyn, Stephanie and Eric.

Raven KASTER was launched at sea by a Maersk Supply Service vessel in November 2018, just a week before a major storm hit the Grand Banks.

The Raven KASTER on the St. John’s waterfront awaiting deployment by a Maersk Supply Service vessel.
Photo: Joe Singleton

Biggest storms, biggest waves

“Just about every class I had – and I teach everybody here – I showed them where our boat was,” Mr. Sheppard said.

“Some kids were very excited about it and we talked about when we had weather incidents, the biggest storms, the biggest waves in the world were off the Grand Banks and that’s where our boat was. I’m amazed it made it over in one piece.”

A storm off Europe last February drove the little boat onto Ireland’s West Coast where it was found by a local fisherman; the mini-boat landed on Dookinella Beach in Achill Island, where Darren Kilbane found it and contacted the local tourism office.

Fisherman Darren Kilbane found the battered mini-boat on Ireland’s West Coast.
Photo: Sean Molloy

Sean Molloy, the tourism office manager, contacted the School of Ocean Technology. He also shared the boat’s memory stick containing students’ letters, photos and videos with local students.

Junior high outreach

The School of Ocean Technology started the junior high school outreach program two years ago.

“We do it to raise awareness about the oceans and to get young people thinking about how the world’s oceans impact their daily lives,” said Paul Brett, head of the school.

“They learn about oceanographic conditions, sailing routes across the Atlantic and ocean careers. The ongoing GPS signal gives the students the opportunity to follow the mini-boat’s progress, see what it’s doing each day and learn about weather and storms that affect its journey.”

The students spent a day at the Marine Institute prepping the mini-boat for its voyage, decorating it with handmade stickers and learning about oceans, currents, climates and technology.

Mr. Brett says the next Educational Passages mini-boat will be equipped with enhanced sensors.

“Not only will students be able to follow its location, the sensor package will measure sea surface temperature and atmospheric conditions.”

He expects to launch the next mini-boat in fall of 2020.


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