greenSTEM

Submersible Science: Philly Students Launch Underwater Drone with PWD

Submersible Science: Philly Students Launch Underwater Drone with PWD

While most Philadelphia students were heading home early due a heat wave this past Tuesday, four 11th grade students from Mariana Bracetti Academy were busy suiting up in full-body chest waders, a necessary piece of gear for the mission at hand: launching a submersible, camera-equipped drone in Frankford Creek.

Undaunted by the steamy temps, the students’ maiden voyage was the culmination of five weekly afterschool sessions they had spent assembling the drone through a program called greenSTEM. An effort of the Philadelphia Water Department, the educational program shows local students how jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields support the department’s watershed protection work.

Built using a kit greenSTEM instructors Matthew Fritch and Maria Horowitz obtained with the Fairmount Water Works through a CUSP (Climate & Urban Systems Partnership) grant, the propeller-driven rover fits in a suitcase and resembles a mashup of the original R2-D2 and a tabletop video projector.

Clearly eager to give it a spin, students Manuela Duran, Angel Cruz, Luz Gonzalez-Mateo and Candy Lucero-Sanchez were joined along Juniata Golf Club section of the stream by their teacher, Lauren DeHart.

Philly STEM Students Hack Rain Barrel, Invent Ultimate Chill Spot

What do you get when you combine lawn furniture, green infrastructure and electronics?

This isn't a joke—this is B-Cubed a.k.a. Bench/Barrel/Boost, a multipurpose creation fusing a shaded bench, a rain barrel, and a solar-powered cell phone charging station.

Philadelphia Water teamed up with 9th grade students at Science Leadership Academy's Beeber campus and the design geniuses at Public Workshop to brainstorm and build this hard-to-miss, difficult-to-describe object, which is now installed at SLA Beeber's schoolyard.

Given the popularity of our Rain Check program, Philly already seems to know rain barrels are important—they act as small stormwater reservoirs, allowing homeowners to manage runoff from roofs and contribute to the overall goal of Green City, Clean Waters. (Read more about rain barrels and sign up to get your own free one here.) The SLA Beeber schoolyard could use a rain barrel to help with watering raised planter beds, but the school building has no exterior downspouts.

The solution? Make our own canopy to funnel stormwater into the barrel. We also imagined what other functions the funnel could perform—a hammock, a skate ramp, a planter?

Public Workshop's Nick Nawa came up with an excellent design that incorporated some key amenities students wanted for their schoolyard: a comfortable place to hang out and a phone charger. Some students developed carpentry skills such as measuring and cutting angles with the chop saw and table saw; others assembled a prototype and final version using hand drills and a nail gun; others learned to solder the circuit boards used to charge phones from solar panels.

Creating a multi-purpose object such as B-Cubed, it turns out, requires multiple skill sets.

Thanks to the SLA Beeber students and staff, to Public Workshop, and to all who helped to complete this unique project. Read more about B-Cubed here and check out some of the other STEM projects Philadelphia Water has brought to city schools and classrooms through their greenSTEM Network program.

This post was written by Philadelphia Water Environmental Engineer Matthew Fritch, who helped found the greenSTEM program through Code for Philly. Fritch has helped Philadelphia students connect STEM projects and watershed stewardship through a number of innovative projects, including B-Cubed.

App Solution: Civic Hackers Create Mobile App for Green Infrastructure


Volunteers at Apps for Philly Sustainability use data provided by Philadelphia Water to work on the new Big Green App project. Credit: Matthew Fritch, Philadelphia Water.

By Matthew Fritch for the
Watersheds Blog


Last week, Philadelphia Water released a treasure trove of data in advance of Apps for Philly Sustainability, a three-day event that brought together sustainability professionals and technologists. Their mission? Conquer the city's problems with code. Armed with datasets and digital know-how, teams of students and tech professionals developed apps to help the homeless find resources, assist students with learning disabilities, and track individual energy consumption. (See more details on the various projects here.)

But the project we're most excited about is a Big Green App (hat tip to the Big Green Map).

SLA Beeber and greenSTEM Grab Award for Drinking Water Week

SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

For most people, watering the garden is an inexact science at best. At worst, unnecessary watering is a double whammy of waste: throwing away good, clean water while increasing the risk of plant problems like mildew and root rot.


But what if you could pop onto your computer or phone and tap into a system that tells you just how much moisture is in your soil, how much sun and heat your plants are getting, and when watering is needed?


That’s exactly what the students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA Beeber) in the city’s Overbrook neighborhood can do when they want to know whether it’s time to turn on the hose at the campus rain garden, and it’s all thanks to a Philadelphia Water partnership called the greenSTEM (that’s short for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Network.


From the greenSTEM website:


The greenSTEM Network connects students to real-time information about their school gardens. Through a collaboration between developers, scientists, designers, and educators, we provide public access to information collected by a network of low-cost, DIY sensor kits spread throughout the city for educational purposes. Our mission is to promote Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program through STEM education and support the development of the Fairmount Water Works Understanding the Urban Watershed curriculum.

The greenSTEM program’s high-tech network of garden sensors is getting attention during National Drinking Water Week (May 3-9) after the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) honored SLA Beeber’s students with their annual Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award during a May 4 presentation. SLA Beeber was one of three award winners in 2015. SAN also honored Reading Area Community College in Berks County and Blue Mountain Middle School in Schuylkill County for projects they completed on their campuses.


SLA Beeber students worked with Philadelphia Water to build and install the environmental sensors, called “root kits,” in the rain garden and can now monitor soil moisture and temperature through a webpage that features an interactive tree where the colors of leaves indicate whether a garden needs watering.  Individual branches on the tree represent garden sensors at SLA Beeber, Greenfield Elementary in Center City, George W. Nebinger School in Queen Village and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough. 

“Projects like this one are very important for keeping the Schuylkill Watershed clean,” Tom Davidock, senior coordinator of the SAN at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, wrote on the group’s website. “Schools provide that direct link to communities and can teach all of us simple things we can all do to keep our rivers and streams healthy. The students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber are involved in a small project that can have a big impact on the watershed.”


Congratulations to the students at SLA Beeber and all the people at Philadelphia Water who make the greenSTEM Network the incredible program that it is!


More About greenSTEM:
 The greenSTEM Network started as a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water and members of Code For Philly at the TechCamp hackathon in February 2013. This unique partnership between a city agency and civic hackers furthers the relationships between technology, education, and environmental stewardship. Grant funding for the greenSTEM Network is provided by NOAA’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They have also received Seed Project funding from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.

Webinar: Green Schoolyards and Citizen Science

The Philadelphia Water Department isn't just interested in managing stormwater at schools—we're leveraging opportunities to create outdoor classrooms that connect students to their environment. Join us on Monday, March 30 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. for Green City, Clean Waters: A Case Study for Greening Schoolyards in Philadelphia, a webinar presented by Toronto-based urban environmental organization Evergreen.

Lois Brink, chief strategist for the Big Sandbox, will share the successes of the Philadelphia Green Schools Alliance and discuss the creation of vibrant green spaces at our urban schools. Matthew Fritch, an environmental engineer with PWD, will detail the greenSTEM Network—an educational initiative to connect students to schoolyard rain gardens via low-cost, real-time sensor technology.

Registration for the webinar is free.

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