It’s a STEAM-y Summer!
by Michelle Hollander

 

STEAM is sizzling in the summer heat. We are trying out new activities with our Junior Summer (JS) participants and they have been a blast. Recently, Bay Bucs (1st & 2nd grades) learned about the ever increasing problem of marine pollution and microplastics. Research by Nappier et al. 2015 indicates that each year “the United States emits enough microbeads to wrap around the planet 7 times”. Another article from Nature showed that a quarter of all the fish guts sampled in Californian and Indonesian fish markets contained plastic fibers and pieces. Luckily, the “Microbead Free Act” will go into effect in 2018, which bans microbeads from products such as toothpastes and body washes. However, until then, “7.3 trillion microbeads will enter the marine environment” (acs publications). Think of that as 1,000 microbeads per person! Eek!! The problem with microbeads and microplastics is that they readily absorb toxic chemicals and are mistaken for food by many marine creatures before working their way up the food chain. Our students used various tools such as chopsticks, clothespins, spoons, and tongs to mimic fish, sea birds, sea turtles, manta rays, and even whale sharks. Their food source was colored rice contained within a bin. However, the rice was contaminated by colored lentil beans. As students played through the challenges, they learned how difficult it was to avoid consuming the “plastic” pieces. In many cases, it was unavoidable! (If you want to learn more about the microplastic problem, check out 5gyres.org.)
First Mates (5th & 6th grades) and Explorers (6th -9th grades) learned how Long Island formed by making their own landscapes in cookie trays filled with flour. Then the glaciers were added: frozen mounds of water mixed with sand and other debris. As the glaciers moved and melted, they left behind tracks and other deposits, just as the real glaciers did long ago. At the end of their range, the glaciers deposited the rest of the earth and sand that they had bulldozed, forming a terminal moraine just like Long Island. Of course, Long Island is constantly changing as a result of erosion. Therefore, we moved our activity to the beachface where students created new landscapes in paint trays with sand and water before mimicking the effects of stormy waves and precipitation. The students took the initiative to conduct multiple trials to see how different landforms and materials reacted to the elements. The students left a little messy but better understood the difference between erosion and deposition.
Even our oldest students (9th-12th grades) get in on the STEAM fun! Mariners discovered more about the fishing industry by participating in the game “What’s the Catch”. In this game, the target species was colorful plastic goldfish. Our fisherman learned about juveniles, bycatch, marine protected areas, and even fishing quotas! Some fisherman earned enough money to upgrade from a hook and line (chopsticks) to a trawl (a mini sand shovel), but decided the trawl posed too much risk for unwanted species and habitat destruction. There were definitely a lot of laughs as they tried to problem solve what decisions would provide the most profit. However, this is only a snapshot into the variety of activities we do in the summer.