environmental education

A Green Light for Learning

By Dustin Renwick

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Movies depict bad breath as a green haze, but anyone’s breath can change a new prototype air sensor, developed by EPA researchers, from blue to green to red.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA student services contractor, worked with Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, to design an interactive air sensor that provides an opportunity to share science and technology with the public.

Here’s how it works: When a person breathes into the box, the sensor measures the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2. This measurement is converted into an electric signal that a computer board translates into light. The top of the sensor changes colors based on the presence of increasing amounts of CO2 we expel each time we breathe.

The sensor provides a visual starting point for broader science discussions by transforming abstract subjects into an interactive, physical display.

“We realized there are a lot of different applications for what you can teach the public,” Johnson said. She said the sensor deals directly with air quality and climate science, but it can also serve as a  tool for talking about topics such as human health, computer programming and optics.

Low-cost, portable sensors have the potential to change air quality monitoring by allowing anyone to measure air quality with calibrated devices that require little training and provide real-time data. Current sophisticated air monitors produce accurate results but scientists can’t easily move these large monitors and the costs are prohibitively high for the average person.

Plenty of challenges remain for the next-generation air sensors, including proper calibration, where the data will go, how the data can be used.

But the promise remains. A network of cheaper sensors could give students, community leaders, scientists and university researchers a more complete picture of air quality.

Johnson is currently working on a sensor curriculum and kits that teachers and students can build in their classrooms.

 

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Make Your Child’s Summer A Learning Experience!

By Lina Younes

As the school year comes to an end, children are eagerly making plans to do “fun things” during the summer. In other words, their idea of “fun” is basically anything that doesn’t have to do with getting up early to go to school. So, as parents how do we address this issue? How do we allow them to take a break from school and have fun while ensuring they are doing something constructive?

Well, I saw a Benjamin Franklin quote that inspired me to write this blog: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. I truly think that he was on to something. Studies show that if you engage children in hands-on activities they improve academically and can even develop an interest in the sciences and math! Engaging children through hands-on “real-life activities” makes their learning experience more relevant and meaningful. So, how can we engage children this summer?

How about taking up a hobby that both you and your child enjoy? Have you thought about a cooking class? Your child will learn about math and chemistry in the process while also learning about a new cuisine and good eating habits. How about learning a new instrument? Music helps open the mind and you even have to learn math to have the right rhythm. How about enjoying the great outdoors by taking up hiking or bird-watching?  Have you considered gardening together?

Have you considered engaging in environmental education activities?  How about volunteering with a community organization to clean a local watershed? How about promoting the 3Rs in your community by organizing a recycling program? Actively engaging your child to protect the environment has numerous benefits. Instilling your child with values like the love of nature and environmental awareness will last a lifetime!

As the saying goes, “a mind is a terrible thing to go to waste.” Don’t let the summer months be a wasteful period. Make this summer a fruitful experience for your child, your family and the environment!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Volunteering in Costa Rica Provides Lessons For Environmentalism at Home

By Betsy Melenbrink

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

In the midst of a metropolis like New York City or the suburban sprawl of northern New Jersey, it may be difficult to imagine that pristine wilderness exists anywhere. But step under the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest and you step into a land untouched by the ravages of time. When Spanish conquistadors disembarked on the coast of this land, which they optimistically named “rich”, they found little by way of mineral wealth. This, in addition to the sparse native population (traditionally used by the Spaniards for forced labor) and the dense tropical rainforest, discouraged the conquistadors from making inroads. Consequently, the tiny region attracted few settlers and little interest from the Spanish crown. Costa Rica slipped quietly into a peaceful democracy, marred only by two brief periods of violence in the last century, the second of which ended with the abolishment of the Costa Rican military in 1948. Now Costa Rica regularly comes out at the top of the Happy Planet Index (a rating of the world’s “happiest people”) and typically ranks in the top five “greenest countries” in the world.

Costa Rica is stable, peaceful, and has a good portion of its natural resources intact. It is blessed with beautiful beaches, thunderous rivers, lush tropical rainforests, active and inactive volcanoes alike, diverse flora and fauna, and climate zones that vary with altitude. The picturesque landscape of the country has led to a booming tourism industry, the top contributor to GDP. Most popular are adventure tourism and eco-tourism, which include such activities as whitewater rafting, zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, hiking to the tops of volcanoes, guided tours through the rainforest understory, and at the end of the day relaxing in a local bar with an Imperial (Costa Rica’s national beer) in hand.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica decided relatively early on to invest in its natural splendor by creating preserves and national parks. It has developed an extensive education and awareness program, much like existing programs here in the United States. The Ticos (as Costa Ricans are called) are taught to participate in the “4Rs”: recycle, reuse, reduce, and reject. There are recycling campaigns, reforestation movements, and protests against actions that are potentially damaging to the environment, such as open pit mining. Nearly all of the energy used comes from renewable sources and the country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021. However, nearly all of the recycling initiatives, waste management, and environmental education are centered about urban areas. Far removed from this emphasis on environmental protection are the people who live in small rural villages.

I was able to see the limitations of government-sponsored environmental education when I spent several months working in a rural Costa Rican mountain village. Families in this village have limited transportation and waste management options but ample access to rivers. As a result, most of the waste in these areas is either burned (an illegal practice) or placed in the river and then washed downstream where others are forced to cope with polluted water. Since no one lives upstream of them, the families in the village where I stayed were not able to witness the consequences of throwing trash into the rivers and streams. The trash and recycling collection programs in place in more urban areas of Costa Rica do not exist in villages miles away from the nearest paved road. Rivers are simply the most expeditious way of removing waste.

Water bodies are also polluted as a result of erosion from deforestation and the burning of sugarcane fields during the harvest season. Much of the agricultural runoff is also loaded with pesticides and herbicides, further polluting streams. This chemical form of contamination can often go unnoticed and can present a health hazard for those who rely on the streams for potable water, bathing, and washing.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

While it is easy to think that these sorts of problems are restricted to “third world”, or developing, countries like Costa Rica, many of them are mirrored in our own country. There are places where environmental education is not far-reaching, where waste disposal services are not convenient or available, where environmental protection is not a knee-jerk reaction. It is important to note that both in Costa Rica and in the United States, those who pollute the environment are not evil people. Chances are, none of them are out to get Mother Nature. If we truly want to globalize environmental protection, we have to make environmental education universal, give easy access to proper disposal facilities, and provide incentives for behavioral change. And we can start right here at home by setting a good example.

Betsy Melenbrink is an ORISE fellow with the Hazardous Waste Support Section within the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment in Edison. She took a gap year before beginning her undergraduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and spent that time hiking the Appalachian Trail and volunteering in Costa Rica.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

P.S. 166 is a Green Elementary School

P.S. 166 Cafeteria Composting Setup

By Karen O’Brien

How much garbage does one school cafeteria generate each day? At P.S. 166, the Richard Rodgers  School of the Arts and Technology on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, elementary school children and school staff have teamed up to reduce their cafeteria garbage from 12 bags per day to just one!  With the assistance of school staff and student monitors, everyone from kindergarteners through fifth graders separate liquid, compost, recyclables and garbage from their breakfast and lunch.  The school has also switched to biodegradable bagasse trays, as an alternative to Styrofoam.  P.S. 166 participated in a 2012 composting pilot project with seven other local schools in Manhattan District 3, reducing the volume of cafeteria waste by 85%, and diverting food waste from landfills each day.

Under the leadership of the Green and Wellness Committee, and with the cooperation of teachers and custodial staff, P.S. 166 has implemented environmentally sustainable practices throughout the school.  Each green program is an excellent opportunity to engage students, teachers, school staff and parents, learning about recycling, pollution prevention, climate change and sustainable living.  Waste reduction and recycling programs at the school include composting food, and recycling bottle caps, electronics, and textiles.

P.S. 166 participates in the Green Cup Energy Conservation Challenge each year, challenging .  students to reduce their energy consumption by turning off lights and unplugging appliances in the class room.  Each class room is assigned two “Climate Captains,” who assume a leadership role ensuring the school does its best to conserve electricity and reduce greenhouse gases.

P.S. 166 won the Green Cup Challenge in 2010 with a reduction in electricity useage over a six month period of 17.75%.  In subsequent years, P.S. 166 has reduced energy consumption even more, but as a mark of progress, this was not enough to take the Cup! In 2011, PS 166 won 4th place and a $10,000 prize for reducing its electricity consumption by 23.3%, saving $2,403 on their electric bill in one month, and prevented 19,815 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment. Other schools are catching on, making the competition fierce for this year’s Green Cup challenge! For more information about greening schools, check out greenschoolsny.com and P.S. 166’s Green page.

About the author: Karen O’Brien is an Environmental Engineer in the Clean Water Division of EPA Region 2.  She holds Master and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from the Cooper Union in New York City, and is a licensed Professional Engineer.  At EPA, Karen works to regulate discharges of wastewater under the Clean Water Act, and has performed temporary assignments in the fields of climate change, pollution prevention, and air quality monitoring.  Karen has three children, two of whom attend P.S. 166!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Outdoor Activities for Better Grades

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

As I was watching one of the morning shows covering the Olympics Games this week, I saw a feature story about a primary school in England that had incorporated cooking classes into the curriculum. The intention was not to produce future chefs, although many of the students had become quite skilled in the culinary arts. The objective was to get children outdoors, to teach them about gardening, to make them aware of where food comes from, and how eating fresh food makes them healthier. While their culinary talents were an added bonus, the program pointed out to many positive outcomes. The part that caught my attention was when the reporter asked the schoolmaster if there had been an improvement in their overall grades in traditional classes. The school master answered with an emphatic “yes!”

Many of the issues highlighted in the London school were similar to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move which focuses on fighting childhood obesity by improving access to healthy food in schools and in the home and by increasing physical activity. I would take the benefits of this program one step further. How about increasing opportunities for children to have healthy outdoor activities? How about exposing children to nature? What would be the impact on children’s health and knowledge?

In fact, there have been several small studies which show a correlation between environmental education and improved student achievement and success in the sciences. The studies indicate how hands-on learning experiences through outdoor or environmental education enhance problem-solving skills, improved performance in the sciences while fostering overall environmental literacy and stewardship. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

So, while we still might have time off with the kids during the remaining summer vacation, why not try engaging our kids in some outdoor activities away from the TV? What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Time Well Spent on a Pier

By Kelly Dulka

While vacationing in Nags Head, NC, I became curious about the pier just a few blocks down the beach and had heard it had an environmental education center, so I decided to check it out.

Jennette’s Pier originally opened in 1939, and changed fishing on the Outer Banks forever.  For more than 60 years, the pier was repaired or rebuilt from time to time due to hurricanes and nor’easters. The NC Aquarium Society bought the pier to develop it into an educational facility. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel knocked down about 540 feet (over half) of the pier, practically shutting down an Outer Banks institution. It then became time to rethink the fishing pier concept, with the aquarium taking the lead to rebuild Jennette’s as an all-concrete, 1,000-foot-long, educational ocean pier.

The new pier opened in 2011, and is a fascinating place to visit. Aside from all of the cool displays inside the educational center (like floor to ceiling aquariums), I was happy to learn that the pier was LEED certified by the US Green Building Council. This meant that “green” technology was everywhere you looked, and even in places you couldn’t see.

First off and probably most noticeable are the three wind turbines that rise 90 feet above the pier and provide over half of the energy for the pier.  Some solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, which is then stored to provide the power necessary for the pier’s lights at night. The building is heated and cooled by a geothermal HVAC system.

Collected rainwater provides water for irrigation and cleaning the deck and facility vehicles, and there is an on-site waste water treatment facility providing reclaimed water to the pier. These features are projected to reduce water use by up to 80%.

Inside the pier building, educational classes are offered year round. School groups can learn about ocean and marine life, and in the summer, camps are offered. If I hadn’t already realized this wasn’t your ordinary fishing pier, I could tell once I ventured out of the center.  It was very “user friendly” with plenty of benches for seating, tables for cleaning your “catch of the day,” and informational displays about fishing regulations and size requirements. Best of all, it was clean (and not smelly at all, I might add!) Plenty of trash and recycling receptacles, and there were even bins for recycling fishing line!

On the day I visited, there were many people visiting the pier, young, old, sportsmen, and sightseers. It was clear to me that the time I spent exploring was well worth it, and certainly worth spending more time visiting again.

About the author: Kelly Dulka has worked for EPA for many years. She currently works in the Office of Web Communications at EPA Headquarters.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Discovering Local Hidden Treasures

By Lina Younes

Recently I took several days off to stay home with my youngest daughter who was off for spring break. Let’s call it a staycation. Although I definitely had quite a long “to do list” of chores at home, I still wanted to make it fun for her so that she would feel that she had done something special during her time off from school.

So, what were we going to do? The movies? Check. The mall? Check. A trip to a museum? Check.  Staying home and watching TV? That definitely was not on my list of special memorable experiences for our staycation. As I was looking for activities in our local area, I remembered the sign on the road that I had seen and ignored many times before. The National Wildlife Visitor Center. Interesting. So, one afternoon I took my youngest to the visitors center at the Patuxent Research Refuge just five miles away from our house and found a hidden treasure in our neck of the woods.

It turns out the facility is the largest science and environmental education center in the Department of the Interior located on the Patuxent Research Refuge. During our visit, we explored interactive exhibits focusing on global environmental issues, migratory bird routes, wildlife habitat and endangered species. We also ventured on some of the hiking trails along the way. Since we were not equipped with a good set of binoculars, we didn’t see much wildlife, but we saw some geese leisurely walking by.

We definitely look forward to visiting the center again. The fact that it is so close to our home makes it even an ideal place to spend some time on a nice afternoon. Do you have any hidden treasures in your local community? Would you like to share them with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

New York Harbor School |Opportunities in Environmental and Maritime Training and Practical Experience

By Larry Siegel

Harbor School has 6 CTE Programs of Study which begin in the 9th grade survey course Introduction to New York Harbor.

Introduction to New York Harbor or “Harbor Class” is taken by all ninth graders at New York Harbor School and is the basis for six Career and Technical Education Programs of Study: Marine Biology Research, Aquaculture, Vessel Operations, Ocean Engineering, Marine Systems Technology, and Professional Diving.

Marine Biology Research
The Marine Biology Research Program is a three year program that will jump start high school students in core marine science topics. Students will study simple aquatic ecosystems; formulate experiments with these systems; learn the biology, chemistry, physics, and ecology behind them; and apply basic instrumentation techniques to monitor them. Students then focus on three main topics: oyster restoration, habitat characterization, and water quality monitoring.

Aquaculture
Aquaculture teaches the theory and practice of raising aquatic plants and animals. Re-circulating aquaponic systems containing tilapia and herbs/vegetables are used to teach nutrient balance, feed ratios, fish disease identification/treatment, entrepreneurialship and filter design. Oyster hatchery, nursery, and growout techniques will be taught for the purposes of restoration.

Vessel Operations
This major prepares students for careers as licensed deck hands, as well as providing them with a stepping stone into management and operations positions aboard small passenger vessels and commercial towing units.

Ocean Engineering
Students learn about design, drafting, the physics of motion, electronics, and underwater technology as well as working well in a team, managing a project, measuring and presenting outcomes by designing, and assembling and testing submersible robots.

Marine Systems Technology
This program will teach the knowledge skills and attitudes that will prepare successful graduates to be marine systems technicians. Marine systems include electrical, fuel, hydraulics, refrigeration, propulsion and plumbing systems.

Professional/Scientific Diving
The program will take students through a series of certifications as recreational divers through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), beginning with Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver. Students will receive training in boat safety and handling, emergency marine response.

More information about the Harbor School can be found here.

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Magnificent “Clearwater” Sloop

By Larry Siegel

Want to go sailing on a sloop? Come aboard ye landlubbers for an afternoon of fun and education for the whole family.

In 1966, a handful of Hudson river-lovers decided to change the course of events that was destroying the Hudson and reclaim a natural treasure for us all. They wanted to dramatize the river’s plight, recall its history, and help guide its future. They wanted to provide their fellow citizens with a first-hand look at the neglect and pollution of the river, and move them to action. So they built a boat. And what a magnificent boat!

By contacting the Clearwater organization you can find out the details regarding charters (for education groups as well as private parties) and public sails (on which individuals and small groups can purchase tickets).

Clearwater offers a number of educational, volunteer, and fun filled programs, but Clearwater’s “Classroom Under Sail” is the centerpiece of the Clearwater education program. This three hour shipboard program is an exploration of the Hudson River and environmental awareness that forges a lifelong connection with nature.

And, if you like folk music, not to be missed is the annual two day Clearwater Music and Environmental Festival that takes place at Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, NY in Westchester County. If you can make your way up there it is a great event.

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Green Reading—One Leaf at a Time

By Lina Younes

Follow me on Twitter

Just recently I had the opportunity to read at my youngest daughter’s school. While I eagerly volunteered for the reading assignment, selecting the right book was not that easy. I went through several children books we had at home. At first glance, I didn’t find any one particular book that caught my eye. I was leaning toward a book about the Puerto Rican tree frog commonly known as the coquí which would allow me to talk about one of my favorite subjects. However, my daughter did not seem that enthused with the idea. Even though I was not issued any specific educational instructions for this reading opportunity, I knew I had to meet some other standards set by my daughter and her classmates: the book could not be “lame.” So then, I had an “aha moment” and thought of the perfect book to teach them about taking care of the environment: The Lorax.

Thanks to a colleague, I had a Lorax plush toy while I read the classic tale of this forest creature that spoke on behalf of the trees. I was pleased to see that the children listened attentively as I read the book. I even had time to spare to ask them questions about what they had heard and their thoughts on how we can all protect the environment. What were some of their recommendations? Many of the same actions that we encourage here at EPA:

  • Do not litter
  • Recycle
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room
  • Turn off the water faucet when you brush your teeth
  • Ride your bike
  • Plant a tree

These are all very good suggestions from these fourth graders! So, if you’re looking for some good reading material for your children, The Lorax is a good book to consider. If you are looking for some educational materials to use in the classroom or at home, there are some good tools inspired by this classic and the upcoming movie. And when spring officially starts, why not plant a tree?

Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Playing devil’s advocate here—do you think all the merchandising associated with the release of the new movie might actually go against the commercialization denounced in the original Lorax book? What are your thoughts? Would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.