Grant allows Bear Lake Schools to acquire ROV

BEAR LAKE — By the looks on the faces of the Bear Lake students crowded around the edge of the Paine Aquatic Center, it was obvious their excitement was hard to contain.

Students from Bear Lake Schools work on the Deep Trekker Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) the school acquired with a grant from Limitless Fund of the Manistee County Environmental Fund of the Manistee County Community Foundation. The robot will be used for the science classes to do studies on the various lakes in the area. The students took it to the Paine Aquatic Center to learn how to operate it.

They weren’t taking swimming lessons, but all eyes were focused on the water in the pool. The students were looking at the school’s newest learning tool, a Deep Trekker Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that was moving soundlessly in the waters of the swimming pool.

Science teacher John Prokes is constantly challenging his students with real world scientific learning opportunities, and this is just another in that long line of those experiences.

“We want to put it to actual scientific use and do some research with it,” said Prokes. “We want to learn how we can use this in a lake ecosystem like Bear Lake, which is where we are going to start out.”

However, one of the reasons for taking the ROV on its maiden voyage in the friendly confines of the Paine Aquatic Center was to gain experience in operating it. The ROV has a camera on it and the capability of collecting soil samples off of the bottom of a lake, so teaching the students how to use it is vital to the educational component they will get out of it.

“Our first goal is how do we drive this thing and get it to function in a way that we can take images of sub-surface conditions and collect samples, sediments or plants,” said Prokes. “We also need to learn how we can make observations and document changes that are taking place over time in a lake ecosystem.”

He said that is their eventual goal to make it not just a fun thing to operate in the water, but a valuable learning tool. They want it to provide data and analysis to not only make it an asset in supporting curriculum, but something that can assist local agencies and watersheds as well.

“We want to ask them what information they may need from the lake and then we can mobilize this thing out to the lake and actually use it for that purpose,” said Prokes. “It has a beautiful camera and lights so we can download video and pictures of everything we are seeing. We want to first document what the condition of the lake sediments and vegetation over time before we go on from there.”

The ROV has 300 feet of connecting cable that will allow them to go quite deep in any body of water. It also has a front grabbing claw on it to retrieve things from the bottom of the lake and a couple of scoopers to collect soil samples.

“We got it from Deep Trekker which is a Canadian Company,” said Prokes. “We applied for a grant from Limitless Fund of the Manistee County Environmental Fund of the Manistee County Community Foundation over the summer and were awarded it. We had to add some money, but we worked with Deep Trekker and they gave us a higher end model at a reduced price because it was a demo model.”

Prokes said it is kind of an extension of the Bear Lake Schools robotics program that allows them to do things on land and water.

“This will be for all the science classes at Bear Lake, but primarily for the high school science classes,” said Prokes. “It will be primarily for science, but any student who has an interest in robots can take part and maybe that will stimulate an interest in engineering, robotics or anything like that.”

Prokes said they plan to start using it in the spring in the lakes in this area. Students, like Trevor Eisenlohr, are looking forward to that with a great deal of anticipation.

“I like the ROV program because it gives us a little insight to the ocean,” he said. “That is why I love ROVs, because we don’t know what most of the deepest parts of the ocean floor is like as there is only like 9 percent that we know about.”

He said another thing he likes about the ROVs is it’s up-to-date technology they get use right now in high school. Another advantage is they can study what is underwater without going down to those depths.

“It’s also simpler as you don’t have to go down there so there isn’t as much risk involved — it’s a robot,” said Eisenlohr.

For Alexia Rineer, the adventure is something she looks forward to experiencing with the ROV.

“I can’t wait to go down in Bear Lake, and we hear there is a shipwreck in Portage Lake that we can go and see,” said Rineer.

Eisenlohr said the concept for getting an ROV came after Prokes’ students went on a trip with the Inland Seas program in Traverse City. That program had an ROV and they thought it would be beneficial to have one in their own classroom.

“We got to drive it around on the Inlands Seas trip and thought that would be cool to get one,” he said.

Student Victoria Hall said it could help lead to future career options.

“I want to be a marine biologist when I get older and the ROV will give me a good insight into what it is like,” she said. “That is kind of why I joined the team and am so excited about it. I love the ocean.”

Taylor Merrill said she is still undecided about what she wants to do for a career in life, but being a part of this program gives her an opportunity to try some things that may help her make a decision, but also give her experiences in some of those areas.

“If I want to be an engineer this will allow me the chance to operate a machine,” she said. “I can use this experience to help me in that I can put down knowing how to operate a Deep Trekker.”

Conzuelo Magna Garcia said she likes the opportunity to make an impact on the environment. She also pointed out it gives her a chance to look at possible careers.

“I like how we can use these to help our lakes,” she said.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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