Monday, May 16, 2016

Mystery Science Classroom 1864: Teachers delve into CSS Georgia discoveries

(USACE drawing and photos)

You might pity the CSS Georgia. It never got to fire on the enemy. The crew labored in dreadfully dull duty and a hot, inhospitable setting. To top if off, the ironclad was scuttled, the remnants lying in a jumble on the Savannah River bottom.

Nearly 152 years later, a more encouraging picture has emerged, along with a sizable portion of the shipwreck. The CSS Georgia’s most exciting time is now – as a tool of education, rather than war.

The ship’s lack of power and mobility were initially a disappointment to the Confederate navy. Rather than roving the river and sounds, the locally made ironclad was consigned to floating-battery duties in Savannah, Ga., before it was sent to the bottom when Federal forces reached the outskirts of the city.

With its many mysteries -- including its design, length and exact means of propulsion – the vessel has much to teach us.

Up to 20 4th -12th grade teachers will attend a hands-on workshop about the CSS Georgia that is focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics. They’ll use their experience to create lesson plans that will engage students beyond the textbook.

“Participants may use elements from the wreck, its history, and underwater archaeology to engage students in achieving state performance standards as well as Next Generation Science Standards,” says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Navy diver prepares for CSS Georgia salvage in 2015

The May 31-June 3 “From STEM to Stern” workshop will be held at Georgia Tech’s Chatham County campus. Among the highlights is a field trip to the site of the Civil War wreck and a video conference with Jim Jobling of the Conservation Research Lab at Texas A&M University. Much of the vessel was recovered in 2015 as part of the Savannah harbor deepening. Jobling will provide educators a tour of the lab and describe the conservation process.

“It is a perfect opportunity” for participants to enhance STEM-related teaching approaches, said Rita Elliott, a researcher helping to organize the workshop, which will be hosted by the Corps' Savannah office and the Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing.

First off, there’s the matter of the CSS Georgia’s design and construction. Pending artifacts analysis, little is known because no blueprints exist. Archaeologists and researchers are trying to figure out the ship’s dimensions and power train. 

Last year, contract and U.S. Navy divers used sonar, GPS and other disciplines to lift small and massive pieces – including cannon -- from the river bottom. A CNN article last summer provided some details of the rigors of documentation:

“The sonar system provides a 3-D, real-time image of what the divers are doing. Moving dots on some computer screens show the location of the divers and the I-beam used to lift some items. One of the divers carries a tracking beacon and crew members can follow the divers with an image of the plume made by their bubbles.”

Reinforced armor included pieces of train rails.

A boat will take the teachers to the wreck site east of downtown Savannah after they review a PowerPoint presentation on the research. Archaeologist Stephen James will show them a side-scan sonar sweep, said Elliott.

“They are going to have very professional exposure to the science,” she told the Picket.

The educators from three Georgia counties and two in South Carolina will have time to mull ideas for lesson plans before returning to the Savannah campus on July 29 for feedback and further discussion. They will make final presentations.

All the lesson plans will go the website of the Museum of Underwater Technology (MUA), where they will be available to teachers nationwide. The website is a repository of CSS Georgia images, documents, videos, educational outreach and more.

Elliott has been tasked with helping the Army Corps of Engineers provide public outreach about the ironclad.

CSS Georgia artifacts on display at Old Fort Jackson

A public lecture is planned in early June and a CSS Georgia documentary is being produced. A traveling “teaching trunk” is being developed. It will contain lesson plans and 3-D objects for use in classrooms. Rack cards were developed for the trunk and to give out at festivals and other events in the region.

The “Raise the Wreck! “ festival last summer at Old Fort Jackson gave the public the opportunity to learn about the CSS Georgia recovery dive just a few hundred yards away.

The unknowns about the Georgia show that history is not always in black and white, said Elliott. “It lends itself to critical thinking outside the box.”

Of course, the CSS Georgia’s artifacts tell a lot of the story. Divers found six pair of leg irons, or manacles, used to confine and punish crew members who went AWOL.

“That shows so much what life was like on this vessel,” said Elliott. “It was horrible. It was like being in a boiler, so hot, with it raining inside because of the humidity.”

Rack card to be handed out at festivals

No comments:

Post a Comment