Original story published by Media-Providence Friends School news. Republished with permission. To learn more about the MPFS STEAM education programs click here.
During STEAM WEEK, students from preschool through 8th grade participated in a project-based, cross-curricular learning experience focused on investigating where and why access to clean water is limited in many places on earth, including some parts of Africa, like Kenya and Sudan. Students explored the importance of clean water, more ways to conserve water, and innovative ways to purify polluted water as well as what it means to be a citizen scientist and agent of change to protect our environment. Click here to view a photo album from STEAM Week!
As part of their science sessions, students collected and tested water from their own backyards in Media and surrounding areas, as well as from water collections from MPFS field trips to the Poconos, Costa Rica, and more. The extended MPFS community pitched in with samples from as far away as the Nile River! Our preschoolers enjoyed a visit from The Franklin Institute for story time and exploring water droplets using eye droppers and magnifying glasses. They also enjoyed customized water tables, sensory water games, lots of books about water, and an oil and water mini-experiment.
Middle school students tested quality of local streams, ponds, and lakes, assessing salinity, pH, nitrites, phosphates, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, and possibly lead, and learned what those measurements mean and the effects they have on aquatic life. The data collected was then input into the Earth Echo’s Database. According to their website, The EarthEcho Water Challenge is an international program that runs annually and equips anyone to protect the water resources we depend on every day. The EarthEcho Water Challenge builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies.
As part of their technology unit, the middle schoolers used virtual reality headsets to look at the effects of ocean acidification. While lower school students took virtual field trips to study hydrology and understand how humans need to work to stop polluting our water systems. They also learned about the giant hellbender salamander, native to PA, which is disappearing due to pollution in rivers and streams, before designing their own 3D aquatic animals. To inspire young engineers, lower school students read Saving Salila’s Turtle: An Environmental Engineering Story and designed and tested their own water filters using household objects. Middle school students went on to research, design, construct and test a system to desalinate water and make it potable using methods like reverse osmosis, evaporation, filtration, and an electrical current.
Students studied the work of artists like Tyler Thrasher, Sigalit Landau, and John Sabraw who combine science and art to make creations using natural elements. Middle school students grew crystals on natural objects using different kinds of salt and then took photos using a microscopic camera and a 33mm camera, all producing a variant of image quality to show the beauty and importance of water. Using Angela Haseltine Pozzi Washed Ashore project for inspiration -- a nonprofit organization that makes sculptures from plastics found in the ocean to raise awareness about pollution -- students created their own 3D underwater mural using plastic and other trash commonly found polluting our oceans. Students across grades worked with Soundtrap to create original songs using water sounds for relaxation and meditation. Lower school students also learned some water and sea creature themes songs in Spanish!
Using their math and data collection skills, lower school students calculated how many gallons of water their families use in one day compared to other places in the world. Middle school students learned how to calculate parts per million in testing for chemical contaminants in water and then graphed/analyzed the data.
Students were also treated to special STEAM guest speakers from Drexel University. Dr. James Tangorra, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Drexel in Mechanical Engineering & Mechanics, and graduate student in the Peace Engineering program, Savanna Michener, who both have a commitment to bettering the world and designing solutions for problems, such as lack of access to clean water, that lead to conflict in communities spoke to students across grades. Additionally, Ken Taylor, Ph.D., a professor at Villanova School of Business and husband of MPFS guidance counselor Teacher Laura Taylor, spoke about his scuba diving experiences and changes he’s noticed on dives due to global warming and pollution.
While STEAM Week shines a spotlight on the academic, the social-emotional curriculum at MPFS is what makes possible strong, diverse academic programming like STEAM Week, which asks our students to be flexible, resilient, persistent, and creative learners. Students across grades participated in empathy building towards people without access to clean water in the classroom -- through group activities like simulating development of a waterfront community to explore the possible effects of development on water quality and the surrounding watershed -- and on the playground -- building water carriers and simulating the long walks carrying heavy buckets of water that many children in other countries experience every day. Teachers had students consider big questions like What is the relationship between access to clean water and peace in areas of the world? What wars and conflicts have developed that are related to the lack of fair distribution of water? To protect and fairly share the resource of water, what action step would you consider doing first for the benefit of your community and other communities?
Though STEAM Week is just 5 days out of the year, the work and lessons preparing for STEAM happen all year round. Cross-curricular collaboration in the classroom is an integral part of an MPFS education. Combining the subjects of STEAM help students make connections, grasp large concepts, and find their passion within a rich educational setting.
Editor's Note: We are grateful for the students and faculty at Media-Providence Friends School for their commitment to taking action to learn about and protect their local waterways!