Gearing Up Generation G in the EcoMachine

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The Problem

I have a vision of students and teachers in Cecil County, Maryland getting interactive, hands-on, environmental and engineering lessons about making sustainable choices for the environment and their local community. These are the choices that change the world! I can see the vision materialize by building an Eco Machine, and make powerful education lessons about character, ethics, and self-discovery with it.

Plan of Action

I have established the four measurable goals of the project and the stakeholders to involve. First, I need to directly involve 30 students, 2 teachers, and an environmental education center and find two teachers and their classes to assist in the construction, education, and learning of EcoMachines. I desperately need to partner with NorthBay as the ongoing environmental and character education center in Maryland to maintain the project and use the materials. I will solicit advice and contacts from Meghan Luttrell, NorthBay’s coordinator for outreach with schools, allowing me access to Cecil County STEM Science coordinators and collaboration with other projects. For my second goal, I will have the local paper and school newsletters cover a story on the project. To accomplish this, I need to invite members of the local school district to visit the EcoMachine like Janel West, Judy Owens, Frank Cardo, and Larry Lupoli. Then I will need to write a press release regarding the student involvement and educational value for the environment, community, and Maryland’s future and schedule the visit for interested parties to attend with NorthBay administration. My third goal reflects the hard work of many volunteers already. I need to physically build an EcoMachine with 8 total cells! This will entail acquiring construction materials from both recycled and purchased sources, animals for stocking the tanks, and volunteers to help. In addition, in order for this learning experience to return with the schools, we must build another EcoMachine of 4 cells for each teacher. Finally, no project is complete unless all those that visit it can learn, appreciate, and enjoy it all by themselves. This is why I must create and post signs appropriate for 6 learning styles and 2 NorthBay character lessons. With the aid of the Ocean Arks manual, I can reference applicable lessons and gain help from Jessie Green, NorthBay’s lesson writer.

Project Updates

I would like to think this is my final update...but we all know that projects like this don't "end"! In fact, I need the school year to begin again to get moving with new schools and the EcoMachines we built in schools. Alas, for right now, I have plenty to share.

Having set out to "change the world", I've fallen a little short of that. Okay, maybe a LOT short of that. In the midst of taking two graduate school courses in environmental engineering with titles like "Principles of Water and Wastewater Treatment" and "Wetland Delineation", I have learned more than a little bit about the tremendous importance of the water we drink, wash, cook, and flush.
• The same water that has been on earth from the beginning of time, is the same water that is on earth now. So in essence, we are using the same water that was once used by the dinosaurs.
• Today, there are about 1.1 billion people on earth that do not have access to safe drinking water.
• Currently, there are about 2.4 billion people on earth that do not have adequate wastewater services.
• From all the water available on Earth, about 97 percent are saltwater in the oceans and salt lakes. The water in ice caps/glaciers adds to about another 2.0 percent of the water. The remaining limited balance is the fresh surface in lakes, streams and rivers (about 0.01 percent) and fresh groundwater (about 0.6 percent.)
• Only about 1% of the water used in a house is actually used for drinking, though all of it is filtered and cleaned to be fit for drinking (even the water in the toilet)!
I was not ready for the impact EcoMachines could make locally. Middle and high school students could build them to help solve the problems of our planet’s water! I am excited to share the videos and pictures of these students in the fall. We will be making a short documentary of their thoughts, actions, and reasons for making a classroom EcoMachine. I expect it to be shown throughout the entire county of schools in Maryland.

I am just seeing many of the fruits of our labor too. The summer weather has brought a flurry of growth and changes in our EcoMachine, as well as lots of interest in the crawfish and bluegills from passer-bys. Even better, we decided to make another demonstration EcoMachine that would fit in a typical classroom made exactly for teachers. Now teachers can visit, see the total costs of supplies and time, the instruction manual for building it, and review the curriculum while watching it work before their eyes!

I guess in a small way, I haven’t changed the world. The world has helped change me and my community has changed to embrace the world.

With the spring comes new life! The EcoMachine is looking great. New pictures are soon to come. With the help of 6th graders attending NorthBay, we modified the old EcoMachine to includes recycled materials that can be easily replicated in the classrooms. The animal and plant populations are in flux, the water levels need tweaking, but more importantly, teachers and students continue to get excited to learn in a new way! Two teachers from Baltimore City are eager to use the concept in their summer school for hands on projects that integrate environmental issues and would be a valuable future asset for such little financial investment. They balked at $20. "Are you serious? You mean JUST $20??" Tomorrow I attend a local Cecil County school to help STEM students and other Technology students put the first plants and animals into their tanks. It will be a great day of nearly 20 students and teachers. Now, before this, the Maryland US Green Building Council Chapter got wind of this grant and our projects. So what did they do: they started promoting it and sharing the news with everyone! They made a great write up on the project and now involve this example in seminars about Green Schools.

The immediate is great, but what excites me is the future. Today, as students came to plant Bay Grasses in Classes, a local environmental science teacher became intrigued. "What's living in these tanks?" Little did he realize that I had a lot more than just fish or plants! Now he is ready to build a setup with our help at his school! It looks like I'm soon going to run out of funds for these projects, but hopefully the schools are ready to make the rest work!

Pumps leaked, fixes failed, and teachers canceled. It is all in the past. In the last few weeks, I hated walking into the lab to find a puddle on the floor or ice frozen inbetween cracks of plexiglass. The uninsulated building, like a pile of sticks in the open wind, takes out any of the heat the fish and plants want. I hate the idea of the project stalling even more than giving up and avoiding the frustration. Today, I've been working on a presentation board for a major environmental education conference in Maryland where many organizations will hear about EcoMachines. Thankfully, other groups have heard and seen the merit of the project and requested I help in telling about it! I appreciate this. One week ago, other educators at NorthBay saw the opportunities for teaching and since rallied to create the teaching tools for water cycle descriptions, interactive games, and more. My partner at the local school is awaiting my arrival tomorrow to finish building our demonstration kit to distribute to a few experimenting teachers. Lastly, with the funds from DoSomething, I could quickly purchase another pump to replace the failed component. Now the system is working again!

The project has been up and down. I continue to speak with schools and teachers eager to build the EcoMachine. Despite the cancelled appointments to visit the demo and a water pump leak at NorthBay recently, the tech teacher agreed to meet immediately following the holidays on any date I choose. I have to admire their commitment! Additionally, the spinach is growing from seed very well. The sweet potato hydroponics are having less success, so we are ready to start again. Several of the staff are eager to enjoy the food benefits!

The EcoMachine at NorthBay is really taking form. We added both of the living cells with recycled materials. With another modification, we added another way to hydroponically grow leaf lettuce and spinach! We haven't stopped talking with the Cecil County students either. Larry Lupoli of Perryville Middle School is ready to take the project into his school, as well as encourage local papers and teachers to join in the effort. He already took the available donated materials from NorthBay to plan a spot in his classroom. We are excited to see how the plants, animals, and students "do something" over the next few weeks!

Mike

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