When fifth graders from Pines Lake and Terhune Elementary Schools in Wayne were asked, “Are you interested in the environment and ecoengineering? seven students answered the challenge. They signed on for a pilot project to learn about and then create Artificial Floating Islands (AFIs). The students met for one hour each week for four weeks at the Knippenberg Center for Education at Laurelwood Arboretum. Dr. Angela Cristini of Ramapo College developed the project, which was led by teacher/facilitator Karin La Greca with the assistance of Friends of Laurelwood Arboretum volunteers Margaret Kerstner, Sara McHugh, and Mary Jo Sichak.
Artificial Floating Islands are human-made structures capable of supporting aquatic vegetation. They move up and down with water levels and can act as “wave breaks.” Many countries, including the United States, use these structures for habitat restoration and water-quality improvement.
In this hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) project, the students designed and created an AFI that could be placed in a local pond or stream. They worked in teams and learned about water quality and remediation and measurement and data analysis. They tested prototype AFIs and then constructed an AFI for flotation in a body of water using aquatic plants native to our area.
At the first session, students tested water quality at the proposed site for launching the AFI. They then explored websites to research aquatic plants native to our area. Each team built and tested a prototype and then constructed an AFI with a perimeter of 66 cm. Among the challenges they had to meet were determining the shape of the AFI, how to make it float, how to provide space for plants, how to ensure that the roots would meet the water and remain upright, and finally, would their AFI actually float.
At the last session, the students floated their AFI in the pond at Laurelwood Arboretum, to the delight of their parents, teachers and the Friends of Laurelwood Arboretum volunteer assistants. The AFI will remain in the pond temporarily and can then be transferred to another body of water.