Rural Students Build Model Tsunami Shelters


CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University engineer is pioneering a project that enables middle school children to design, build and test tsunami shelters in the classrooms of rural and coastal Oregon schools.

The Tsunami Shelter Challenge aims to increase the technology skills of students by enhancing those of their teachers. The two-year program began in January, funded in part by a $75,000 grant from Symantec Corporation, and was created by Rozeanne Steckler, director of education at the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering at OSU, along with engineering professors Mike Bailey and Harry Yeh.

“Symantec shares OSU’s belief that all children should have the opportunity to learn about the wide range of careers in science and technology,” said Lora Phillips, manager of community relations and corporate philanthropy at Symantec. “The Tsunami Shelter Challenge has found a way to present these topics in an engaging and approachable manner, while showcasing technology's role in creating a safer world.”

Steckler said that science and technology make the biggest impact when their use is directly applicable to students’ lives.

“Since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005, students in Oregon and other coastal states are very aware of the threat that storm surges pose to their communities,” Steckler said.

The purpose of the Tsunami Shelter Challenge is to integrate technology into daily classroom life by providing each teacher with a laptop computer, web camera and classroom projector. Students and teachers will learn computer aided design using a design program called IronCAD, as well as simulation and modeling techniques using custom software written for this project.

The students will then use these tools to design a vertical evacuation shelter capable of withstanding powerful storm surges. Student teams will be responsible for researching, designing and modifying their structures, as well as running simulations, documenting results and repeating the process until the shelter is strong enough to survive disasters.

During the second stage of the program next year, students and teachers will travel to OSU’s Tsunami Wave Basin, the largest facility of its kind in the world, to test their structures with the help of tsunami researchers.

“Students will have the opportunity to see firsthand how their computational models accurately predicted what happens in an experimental lab, as well as to observe the fundamental role that technology plays at the Tsunami Wave Basin,” Steckler said.

To receive training on their new technology materials, teachers will attend a training workshop at OSU this summer, which will emphasize the importance of gender equity to the program by designing a curriculum that appeals to both boys and girls. A second workshop next year will focus on how to integrate the technology into the teaching of life and physical sciences, math and English.

The multidisciplinary approach that Steckler will emphasize in the later stages of the program is particularly useful to the type of schools participating. These schools have enrollments between 15 and 850 students, and teachers typically teach multiple subjects. Since the technology is a permanent gift to the teachers, Steckler wants them to be able to use it across the curriculum.

“It’s all about choices,” Steckler said. “We want to give more options to the students. We want these rural communities to survive and thrive through education.”