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Best of the Week 2018-2019: Teaching to the Future


This week, students in Mrs. Erin Schilf's Design II class, Mr. Matt Falk's HL IB Design Technology class and Mrs. Anne Marie Lavelle's Environmental Science class collaborated to take part in a project as part of the Go Green Grant Initiative. Finding microplastics in oceans is a problem that has been greatly studied, but recently more attention has been turned to finding microplastics in our lakes. Every plastic that we recycle or throw away eventually finds its way back into our water system. If the plastic doesn't go away, it breaks down into microscopic pieces that we can't see. We are now finding microplastics in our fish, food and even our blood caused by athletic tech gear and plastic water bottles to name a few. Our students' project entitled "The Problem of Plastic" will detect just how much microplastic can be found in various samples of water taken from Lake Erie.

First, Mrs. Schilf and Mr. Falk's students designed water sampling devices in order to sample freshwater below the surface level of Lake Erie. These devices had to meet certain specifications based on cost, sample size, weight and ergonomics. The devices also needed to collect at least 500 ml of water and be long enough to reach the water from the shore. "Students took measurements of the sample container, designed a part in AutoCAD and used our 60w Laser Cutter to cut a prototype out of MDF," says Mr. Falk. "After cutting several variations out of MDF, they cut the final version of acrylic so that it would hold up in the water. The process that the students used was similar to the Design Cycle that the students use to create individual Design Projects throughout the course of the year." After students completed five prototypes in two days, the devices were then assessed by Mrs. Lavelle's students to determine which would provide the best samples for their study.

Film Department Chair and Director of Innovation Mr. Nick Kuhar accompanied Mrs. Lavelle and her students on Tuesday morning to Edgewater Beach, with permission from the Cleveland Metroparks, to take field samples of Lake Erie using the Design II and Design Tech students' devices. Once samples were taken, they were immediately analyzed in the field for pH and temperature levels. When students returned to their labs at St. Ed's, they then analyzed the samples further for a combination of water quality indicators including total solids, total dissolved solids and total suspended solids. The total suspended solids in particular are what our students will filter out, dry and then analyze under a microscope to detect any microplastics. "Ultimately, this scientific study was conducted to make our students aware of current issues, to pay attention to the things that contribute to these situations, and to then make corrections in their own way to become more scientifically knowledgable. I want my students to realize that what we are learning in class has direct implications to them and this area," says Mrs. Lavelle. "We haven't compiled the results yet because this was only the first step in the project. We have a lot of work and data collection left to go in order to make any conclusion."

Check out Episode 1 of "The Problem of Plastics" Problem-Based Learning at St. Edward High School and be sure to stay tuned for more updates on this project.

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