Innovation Lab’s mission demands that students “make an impact in the community at large” and the STEM team has been reaching out to appropriate community members who can help. We’ve continuously refuted the notion that high school is a place to do the kid version of real STEM work, so putting students in contact with experts and the dilemmas they’re facing is key to creating purpose in our projects. When meeting with teams from the Bruce Museum and various Town of Greenwich departments, we found the most exciting prospective collaborations not in what they could show students, but in how students could work with them to address needs here in Greenwich.
Our first STEM project begins with students exploring air, soil, and water quality in Greenwich, with an emphasis on the cycling of various chemicals and their impact on ecosystem function. They’ll design and engineer a device that simulates water runoff and collect their own data after introducing variables to the system. We reached out to Denise at Greenwich’s Conservation Commission, Daniel at the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, Amy at the Department of Public Works, and Michael at the Health Department’s Division of Environmental Services and arranged a meeting to present the project. There’s a ton of water quality testing going on in town – almost 20 sampling sites just along the Mianus and Byram Rivers – and Greenwich has its own state of CT Environmental Services lab right in Town Hall. There’s also a testing location out on Greenwich Point. There are local ponds, beaches, and highway runoff areas that are either being tested or could be tested in the future. The Waste Water Treatment Plant on Grass Island looks to be a promising source of hands-on lab testing and large data sets. Big picture – there’s a bunch of water in Greenwich and plenty of questions to be answered about what’s in it and why.
Another potential entry point to the project for students who might be less apt to get their hands dirty is through communication. The town does what it can to put out literature about how what the typical person puts on their lawn or into their house’s waste can affect local waterways. Creating PSAs, updated publications, and educational campaigns are all ideas we had – there was even interest expressed in displaying some of the more effective water runoff devices as a visual educational aid. These are the types of showcases that leave the walls of GHS and affect the town.
Our new friends at the Bruce Museum also had excellent thoughts and opportunities to offer. Tim, the Citizen Science Coordinator gave us an overview of ongoing environmental research programs at the Bruce in which students might get involved. As if that weren’t enough, Peter, the Manager of School and Community Partnerships, introduced us to the Seaside Center and the Bruce’s ongoing field sampling work, offering to share both their datasets and data modelling technical expertise to help meet the needs of Innovation Lab student projects.
When it gets too cold to be outside exploring water, students will engage in an introspective project to create what we’re calling a STEM self-portrait. Using various chemical elements ranging from basic paint pigments to a color-specific controlled burn, students can create a work in any medium that represents any part of their identity. In tandem, they will also produce a 2D mathematical representation of their work using online graphing software (Desmos, art examples). When asked about providing inspiration for the self-portraits, Kathleen, Manager of School and Tour Services, helped us to explore how the Bruce’s upcoming exhibits and/or pieces in the museum’s permanent collections might inspire our students’ work. We definitely hope to arrange a field trip to the Bruce!
What’s perhaps most exciting was the tantalizing prospect of partnering with the Bruce Museum to host a gala of student work for the self-portraits. We imagine an open-house showcase event where parents, students, and the community can come together to appreciate the unique work our students have done. Their role in bookending this project would provide the inspiration for student creativity and the passion and purpose to sustain it until the culminating showcase.
These two projects represent the first semester of our students’ sophomore year. The spring includes a solar-powered cell phone charger. But more on that later.
– Sarah & Brian