Let Curiosity Set Sail at the Independence Seaport Museum

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program pilot a small submarine in a pool in the lobby of the Independence Seaport Museum

Did you know that during the 1940s, the Delaware River was so polluted, no organisms that relied on oxygen to survive could live in it? Or that Frederick Douglas escaped slavery by posing as a sailor? This was one of many surprising facts the students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program learned during a recent visit to the Independence Seaport Museum.

Founded in 1960 as the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, the Independence Seaport Museum seeks “to deepen the understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Philadelphia region’s waterways.” It carries out its mission through exhibits, interactive activities, and historic artifacts. Among the items in their diverse collection are tools, paper records, model ships, and two historic maritime vessels: the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Recently, the Karabots Junior Fellows visited the Seaport Museum to learn more about maritime history, ecology, and the unique impact Philadelphia’s waterways have influenced local, national, and international history.

Upon their arrival, the students broke into small groups and took part in a photo scavenger hunt designed to immerse them in the exhibits, activities, and artifacts the Seaport Museum has to offer. Among the museum’s offerings are Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River, a frank depiction of the African American experience in Philadelphia relative to shipping, sea travel, and manufacturing; a recreation of the bridge of a US Navy destroyer, numerous model ships (some of which were built by inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary), and a traditional boat shop where volunteers still practice boat building.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program play a search and rescue game at the Independence Seaport Museum

After exploring the site on their own, the students took part in Ecology of the Delaware, a hands-on lesson aimed at teaching environmental history and the important role the Delaware River plays in the daily lives of people living in the Delaware Valley. During the lesson, they conducted various tests on Delaware River water, including measuring depth, temperature, PH levels, and phosphate content.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in the Ecology of the Delaware lesson at the Independence Seaport Museum

After our activities concluded, several opted to stay and explore the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Overall the experience gave our students a greater appreciation of the impact of Philadelphia’s waterways.

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The Karabots Junior Fellows at National Biomechanics Day 2018

A Drexel graduate student attaches a motion sensor to a student's arm during National Biomechanics Day 2018

National Biomechanics Day is a global initiative that aims to introduce high school students and teachers to the field of biomechanics. Celebrated on April 11, organizations all over the world take part in hands-on activities to demonstrate the concepts of biomechanics and its diverse applications. During this year’s program, the fifth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program traveled to the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to learn the ways scientists are using biomechanics to assist in physical therapy and recovery.

Breaking into small groups, the students met with Drexel graduate students, who oversaw interactive activities using mechanical sensors and detection equipment to map the way human bodies move, valuable information when monitoring a patient’s recovery and identifying potential mobility issues. At one station, students made use of MOCAP equipment to map out leg movement. Short for “motion capture,” mocap involves using a system of sensors to digitally record a person’s movement; popularized in video game design, mocap has myriad practical applications, including in the field of physical therapy. At another station, the students donned special sensors on their arms to record and monitor arm movement while performing simple tasks, such as lifting small weights and push-ups. The final station sought to transform physical therapy into an interactive game (game-based learning is no stranger to the Karabots Junior Fellows Program). Graduate students utilized a Microsoft Xbox Kinect, a motion-capture sensor designed for specialized video games (although it also has been used for scientific and medical applications) to map a players physical movements in order to play the arcade classic Pac-Man.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program jumps as he plays Pac-Man using a motion-detecting sensor at National Biomechanics Day

By jumping, flexing, and moving around, our students learned the different exciting ways biomechanics can be used to help patients recover from trauma and strengthen their mobility. We are thankful to Clare Milner, PhD, FACSM, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, Drexel University, and the rest of her time for an exciting event.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Identify the Building Blocks of Cancer

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in an activity about cancer biology by assembling walls made of Legos

Cancer is caused by miscommunications in cells brought upon by mutations in a patient’s DNA. Recently students in the fifth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program explored this concept using candy and Lego blocks.

A few weeks ago, the students met with Brad Davidson, a professor of developmental biology at Swarthmore College. Davidson, along with a student intern and members of the Center for Education, will be working with the Karabots students to design a Mütter Museum exhibit on cancer biology. In order to provide a basic insight into how cancer behaves, Davidson devised an interactive activity. Longtime followers of the blog will recall interactive and game-based activities are not unusual here at the Center for Education. Past lessons have taught the scientific method through a room escape, students designed games to teach the public about forensics, and we have done many, many quiz games. However, we’ve never integrated taste into our lessons, until now.

Dr. Davidson instructed the students to break into pairs. One student handled different flavors of candy and the other had a handful of Legos. Each candy corresponded with a different type of block. The pair had to attempt to build a wall out of blocks, using only taste to communicate. The student with the snacks fed specific candies to the student with the blocks; this was to illustrate how cell genes send signals to produce certain kinds of cells. Once they completed this activity, Davidson prepared new instructions to illustrate the way cancer interrupts this communication. The second phase of this activity had the student with the candy send conflicting messages, resulting in irregular or misshapen block walls in fashion similar to the way miscommunications between cells whose DNA is altered by cancer create cancer cells.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in an activity about cancer biology by assembling walls made of Legos

Overall, Davidson’s innovative activity successfully conveyed the message and gave our students a useful framework for when they begin to develop their exhibit.