St. Matthew’s Eighth Graders Partner Scuba and Science

Max Goldman (not pictured), James Kanoff (left) and Emmet Reilly (right) designed a surfboard with pedals. Trying out the apparatus is Emmet’s dad, Kevin Reilly. Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer
Max Goldman (not pictured), James Kanoff (left) and Emmet Reilly (right) designed a surfboard with pedals. Trying out the apparatus is Emmet’s dad, Kevin Reilly. Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

It is rare in American education to see a science program that not only employs the scientific method, encourages creativity and accurate record keeping, but also allows for failure.

St. Matthew’s DEEP (Diving Education Enrichment Program), which inspires eighth graders to think outside of the box, is a science program that does exactly that.

Science teacher Bruce Harlan, who has been promoted to middle-school principal this fall, started the program 20 years ago.

“Eighth grade students learn about the science of scuba and learn to dive,” Harlan said. “Then they work in groups to design experiments or engineering projects and eventually, publish their work on a Web site.”

For the spring semester, eighth graders choose either the science program (DEEP) or STAR (Shakespeare Theater Arts and the Renaissance).

The DEEP students decide if they want to improve on a previously completed experiment or perform an original experiment. ( DEEP)

On May 24, students showcased their findings in a science-fair type setting, explaining their research to visitors, parents and younger students.

For example, Emily Miner and Courtney Bagnall had heard that whales were affected by sonar, so they conducted a sound experiment using guppies and their response to sound frequency and volume.

“We thought all would move away from sound and that size wouldn’t matter,” Bagnall said, noting that the experiment used small, middle-sized and large guppies.

“It did matter,” Miner said, explaining that smaller guppies responded to volume, while the larger ones responded more to frequency.

“We found out afterwards that the otoliths (ear bones) might not be as developed in smaller guppies, which might make a difference,” Bagnall said.

A visually interesting experiment centered around a surfboard that had pedals like a bicycle. “We were going to make a jet-powered surf board at the start, but scaled it down, “ said Max Goldman, who partnered with Emmet Reilly and James Kanoff.

“We wanted a full-scale project to make it interactive,” Reilly said.

“We hope to take it out on the ocean,” Kanoff added.

Drew Entin, Mitch Algert and Cooper Mayer set out to create the perfect man-made wave. “We know that machines make waves for water and amusement parks, so we thought we could create one,” Entin said.

What was easily said, was not easily done. The three discovered it would cost around $3 million to build and maintain a wave machine that would produce a three-foot wave.

With help from SurfStream, a San Diego-based company that builds machines that creates waves, the three students built a tank, constructed water pumps, and built clay obstacles in their quest to make the perfect wave.

“We made seven obstructions,” Mayer said. “Some didn’t work at all.”

“Obstruction five came closest to making the perfect wave because it had the widest barrel and the tallest height,” Algert said.

Teacher Harlan has partnered with Scubahaus for the past 20 years. This year the students took scuba lessons in the St. Matthew’s pool and the Palisades High pool. They also have the opportunity to become certified in scuba at a continuing course off Catalina Island.

Harlan and his wife Kathy, an audiologist, took a scuba course 21 years ago so they could dive during their honeymoon in Jamaica.

“It led me to think of doing this program at St. Matthews,” he said, noting the school won a first place Leading Edge Award for Excellence in Technology from the National Association of Independent Schools in 2003.

Harlan, who attended Marquez, Revere, PaliHi (class of 1983—captain of the swim team), received an environmental science degree from UC Santa Barbara and his teaching credential from San Diego State. They have two children, a son Kelly and a daughter Nicole.

“Our program teaches students to pre-think all of the logistics,” said Harlan, “and will continue in 2014.”