For the last five years, the Alaska Science Learning Laboratories has been providing an alternative learning environment for youth in Seward. The school, founded and operated by Marvin Tapsfield, has a large range of classes that mainly focus on science studies.
Like all classes the school provides, the ROV class is made up of both public school and home-schooled students, making it available to anyone who is within the age requirements.
Students in the ROV class are learning how to create, from scratch, a submersible robot that is able to move in all directions.
"This is the class's first year, so it has been quite a learning experience for both me and the students," said Tapsfield, the class's instructor.
Tapsfield explains how the learning environment that his school has created allows the students to be the teachers.
"I am more of a facilitator," Tapsfield said.
Each student is given a detailed instruction manual on how to build the ROVs and the supplies that are needed to complete it. From there, the students work independently, with Tapsfield available for support and to answer any questions they might have.
After building their ROV, students test their creations by submerging them in a tank of water located on the same grounds as the class, at the Seward Marine Center next to the SeaLife Center.
Occasionally after submerging the vehicles, the machines experience shorts and other problems that require troubleshooting.
"At this point, they are learning problem-solving skills," Tapsfield said.
By building their machines by hand, the students learn the basic principles of mechanics and electrical wiring and how when used together they are able to operate the ROVs. Social skills are also part of the learning experience, as each student helps others with problems they encounter while constructing the machines.
"We are hoping to enter the students' ROVs in a regionwide contest held in Washington state this spring," board of directors' member Shannon Atkinson said.
"Seward is very supportive of their kids' education," Tapsfield said.
Both Atkinson and Tapsfield appreciate the positive feedback and support that has been received from the community. Atkinson thanked the new director of the Seward Marine Center, Daniel Oliver, for allowing students to use the facilities.
The next semester will bring more challenges to current students as they build upon their ROVs, transforming them from observational machines to more interactive robots by adding electronic arms that will allow the machines to grab and pull things while underwater.
AKSL also offers more traditional classes such as high school biology, chemistry and middle school earth science. All classes through the school are small, allowing one-on-one interaction between the students and instructor.
"With this type of learning environment the students as well as the parents seem to be more involved with what is going on in the classroom," Tapsfield said. He believes that this is the reason the school's dropout rate is so low.
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