Skokie sixth-graders become judges to ocean scientists

SKOKIE — If there were an “American Idol” for scientists, and those snide celebrity judges were replaced by everyday sixth graders, it might look a little like the project undertaken this month by Old Orchard Junior High School students.

More accurately, the project was undertaken by thousands of junior high school students in more than a dozen countries, among them these local sixth graders.

The Ocean 180 Video Challenge presented 10 finalist videos made by scientists communicating their scientific ocean research. Students watched the 10 videos — 42,000 students watched them, in fact — and voted on what they thought were the best among them.

No video could exceed three minutes, and students got to select the top three.

The motivation behind the contest, sponsored by Centers For Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) in Florida, was as clear as the deep blue sea.

“Scientists are constantly exploring, conducting exciting and ground-breaking research that addresses many of the world’s greatest challenges,” stated organizers. “Yet, often, the importance and implications of their discoveries are never shared with the public.”

The Ocean 180 Video Challenge, which will result in $6,000 being awarded to the makers of the three top-rated films, aims to help scientists communicate more effectively with the general public, the organizers say.

“Ocean scientists who submitted films will ultimately have tens of thousands of students, some potential scientists, learning about their research,” said Mallory Watson, a COSEE Florida scientist and member of the Ocean 180 Organizing Committee. “Just as important, evaluations from students will be used to help scientists be better equipped to engage the general public in ocean science research.”

Old Orchard Junior High School was among the 1,800 middle schools involved in the inaugural project. Students from Annie Rutherford’s and Katy Short’s sixth-grade science classes screened all 10 videos before casting votes for their top three.

Although they asked their teachers for their own choices, the adults insisted on staying mum. This was all up to the students.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to get our students exposed to as many scientists as possible,” said Short. “We’re constantly trying to pique their interest in different careers, and this was something that they don’t see happening since it was done in the ocean and they don’t live near the ocean.”

Short and Rutherford made clear that the focus should be on understanding the research that a given scientist is undertaking.

“All of the videos were pretty good,” Short said. “I have my favorites, but I told them I won’t tell them what I think until after I’ve submitted the final results.”

In one of Short’s class, she says, the top three coincided with her own choices, in the other not nearly as much.

“Their top three was nowhere near my top three,” she said about the latter class.

All of the videos shared the ocean as a setting for their research, but they varied in terms of presentation. Some used animation, some didn’t. Many of them had the scientists narrating their work, all of them showed footage from actual research being done.

The ten finalists included the following:

• “Bite Size: Bull Shark Predation of Tarpon” by Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami.

• “Erasing Our Sunken Past” by Michael Brennan of the University of Rhode Island.

• “Fishing in the Deep: Observations of a Deep-Sea Anglerfish” by Lonny Lundsten of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

• “How a Microscopic Team Alters the Course of Carbon in the Atlantic Ocean” by Laurence Yeung of University of California, Los Angeles.

• “Innocence By Viral Tagging” by Ann Gregory of the University of Arizona.

• “Sponges of the Carribean: What Ecological Factors Most Affect Them?” by Joseph Pawlik of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

• “The Harp Sponge: An extraordinary New Species of Carnivorous Sponge” by Lonny Lundsten of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

• “Trash in the Deep Sea” by Kyra Schlining of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.”

• “Wavechasers and the Samoan Passage” by Matthew Alford of University of Washington.

• “What do Lobster Traps Tell Us About Lobsters On the Bottom” by Win Watson, Liz Morrisey and Nate Copp of the University of New Hampshire.

Students respond

The best barometer in measuring how well students responded to the project was to see their lively defense of their favorite videos.

An informal and unofficial sampling showed that the videos on “wave chasers,” the microscopic team and the trash in the deep sea generated the strongest reviews.

Students said they liked the project because all of the scientists tried to show what they did but make it understandable to them.

“The videos were cool,” said Jason Dedios, adding that he thought the first video about the sharks was the coolest. He said the use of animation boards made the video entertaining.

Olivia Yoshioka voted for the wave chasers video.

“I thought it was very interesting that there were waves that were actually under the sea,” she said. “I never thought about that concept before. They could be as high as skyscrapers.”

Anna Pirvu cast her top vote for the video about the microscopic team.

“It was kind of like a movie, and it was really cool because you could understand what the narrator was saying,” Privu said. “He was slow enough, and there was music and creativity. It had very good information that I didn’t know about.”

Ali Jalil seconded that vote.

“I liked it because it was first like a game and then they had a mission to do,” he said. “There was also some awesome music in it.”

Hafsa Nasser voted for the video about trash in the sea for his favorite. He noted images of a chair that was sitting deep on the ocean floor not to mention a shoe and balloons and a pop can and more.

The video on the lobster traps gained one student’s vote who added that it made him hungry watching it, too.

Yoshioka cast another vote for “Erasing Our Sunken Past.”

“I found it really interesting that fishermen of all people were destroying the past, like the Titanic, boats that were sunk and carrying cargo and other things,” she said. “Fishermen did not know that they are destroying these undersea graveyards.”

Rutherford concluded the project was well worthwhile for her students.

“I think they got an authentic science experience out of it,” she said. “They got to hear straight from scientists’ voices, which is valuable. They hear from us all the time, but to hear from scientists themselves about their own research is really special.”

Ocean 180 VideoChallenge • For more information on the project, access