Eddyville Charter School science teacher Sean Bedell didn’t set out to win a prize when he started to write a curriculum about tsunamis for his sixth-grade class.

But the work of Sean — and his students — has won a Samsung award for Eddyville Charter School.

In order to engage his students and relate the topic of processes inside the Earth to the area in which they lived, Sean decided to investigate evidence of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Oregon coast in 1700. First the class studied the science behind the event, then planned the project, which allowed them to take core samples in five different wetland areas near Elk City and Toledo to see how far inland the tsunami had come.

Sean and his students were assisted in development of the project by scientists from the Hatfield Marine Science Center and OSU’s School of Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences.

Before the kids set off on their expedition, they composed letters to property owners and caretakers asking for permission to sample soil on private and county land.

On Oct. 22, the class set out to take core samples in the five designated areas.

The coring equipment was simple — 4-inch PVC pipes, a stepladder and sledgehammer. In order to shove the pipe 5 feet under the ground, a student needed to be situated on a ladder, forcing the pipe into the soil with the hammer.

At the Toledo airport site, the group had its Eureka moment when it discovered beach sand in the core sample, proving that the 1700 tsunami had progressed that far east!

It was an exciting moment for the students, who all expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the initial project. “Getting to pound with a sledgehammer was the best part,” according to Klorece Kowitz.

Returning to the classroom, the students examined their samples and prepared for the next step of the project, which includes mapping out the school grounds, planning a disaster staging area and designing individual disaster kits.

In the meantime, Sean responded to a flier he found in his school mailbox notifying him of the statewide Samsung “Solve for Tomorrow” middle school contest. Using his tsunami project, he submitted an outline, and Eddyville Charter was chosen as a state finalist among hundreds of applicants.

In mid-December, Sean found out that the class had won first place and $20,000 worth of electronic equipment for the school – and that ECS would represent Oregon in the national contest: “Using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to improve Our Communities.”

Over the next weeks, the kids will be finishing up the disaster preparedness piece of the project and creating a video, using some of the new equipment, for submission to Samsung for the final stage of the contest.

Whether Sean’s class wins or not, the last few months have made winners of all of them. Not only have they been actively engaged in the scientific process and discovered new facts about the 1700 tsunami, but the students will have contributed to their community, leaving a legacy of disaster preparedness.

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Nashville resident Kathi Downing can be contacted at ramdown@peak.org or 541-456-4252.