Why Explore the Unknown?

Lori Roberts is a high school biology teacher in Muscle
Shoals, Alabama. Lori is a leader in ocean education and is a graduate
of National Geographic Education’s two-year professional development
program, the National Teacher Leadership Academy.

Students are interested in exploration of the unknown, however, most of my students know very little about ocean exploration or the explorers involved in these expeditions.  I wanted to understand their perception of ocean exploration, so I placed them into small groups and asked them to brainstorm reasons why we should explore the deep trenches of the seafloor, such as the Mariana Trench. I received a variety of responses:

  • To find new species
  • Make a new discovery
  • New discoveries lead to new inventions
  • It will improve our understanding of Earth
  • It’s cool to be the first one to go where no one else has been before (Kids enjoy competition in and out of school.  Competition encourages them to be their best.)

Many are calling the Mariana Trench the last frontier. In 1960, Don Walsh became the first American to descend almost 36,000′. Don Walsh, a U.S. Navy Captain, was only 28 at the time. Walsh, now 80, was invited by James Cameron to hang out with the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition team. He was a witness on the adventure.

30720.jpgFilmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron is
congratulated by ocean explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right,
after completing the first ever solo dive 35,756 feet down to the
“Challenger Deep,” the lowest part of the Mariana Trench. Walsh took the
same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the
Trieste, with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. Cameron’s
dive in his specially designed submersible was part of DEEPSEA
CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National
Geographic Society, and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photograph by Mark Thiessen, National Geographic.

He was able to see the submersible, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER in action, a sub
that has capabilities far beyond the Trieste. Walsh got his job as
co-captain of the Trieste because no one else wanted to do it. He didn’t
get to see much on the way down, but he does say that he saw a fish
right before landing on the bottom. The submersible designed by Cameron
and Ron Allum has state-of-the-art lighting, cameras, and scientific
sampling tools. My students are excited about Cameron’s adventure and
want to know what he saw when he explored the trench.

27339.jpgExplorers wave victoriously from the bathyscaphe Trieste after a seven-mile dive. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie.

Lewis and Clark explored the West in 1803. President Thomas Jefferson
had expectations that they would find wooly mammoths and erupting
volcanoes. It may sound a little strange to us now, but it has been said
that their expedition helped to change and shape the vision of America.
Will the Mariana Trench expedition change our minds about Earth’s
oceans? I believe every generation should dream and collectively share
in the excitement of exploration. Kids of all ages are interested the
Wild West and outer space. Movies and the media have made them seem
We must encourage and inspire students to care about the big blue. The
ocean is not just a vacation destination. It is the living life source
of our planet. Use activities to bring the excitement of ocean
exploration into your classroom or home. Here are a few ideas for
student research and/or projects:

Famous ocean explorers (past and present)

  1. Create an ocean exploration timeline on the wall of your classroom.
  2. Plan your own ocean expedition, real or imaginary (place your students into teams and allow them to name their expedition).
  3. Research the types of equipment or scientific tools needed for exploration (SONAR, submersibles, diving equipment, etc.).
  4. Identify other aquatic frontiers that are left to be explored.
  5. Study conservation efforts in aquatic ecosystems (i.e. Marin Protected Areas (MPA)).
  6. Compare the Trieste expedition to DEEPSEA CHALLENGE.

What type of activities have you used to bring ocean exploration into your classroom?

–Lori Roberts

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