24 Apr

Design Day at SLA


Yeah, that does say “duck butt” on the whiteboard. It’s a long story. At Science Leadership Academy’s Beeber campus, a 9th grade class is becoming a company. Its product is the Root Kit, and over the next 8 weeks the students will be responsible for building the kits, soldering the circuit boards, designing the housing, building the housing, installing the sensors, troubleshooting the kit, and creating a do-it-yourself construction manual for other schools. Is that too much to ask?

Yesterday, the SLA Beeber students did some rapid idea generation (I can’t stand the word “brainstorming”) to come up with concepts for the Root Kit housing. Factors to consider: This will be out in a garden, so it has to stand up to the elements; it doesn’t have to be waterproof, but it can’t be made of cardboard and paper, either. Using recycled materials whenever possible is good. And it can’t be made of metal—the radio signal from the Root Kit doesn’t carry well when the antenna is enclosed in metal.


Look back at the top picture and you can see that, based on the distribution of Post-It notes on the whiteboard (a Post-It indicates a student liked an idea), there was little consensus. None at all, in fact. Not even a hint of it. At the end of the day, we narrowed it down to two designs (an eye and a crashed rocketship) based on … I’m not sure, exactly. Buildability was one factor; the garden gnome was a great idea, for example, but we lack the sculpting skills to make it happen at the moment. Also, SLA Beeber’s mascot is a rocket, so that design seemed apt. It’s buildable, too, perhaps using two recycled 2-liter soda bottles.

23 Apr

Build Day

Yesterday, the three winning teams in the greenSTEM student design competition gathered at the Fairmount Water Works to construct housings for the Root Kits. We had paint, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, hot glue guns and much more on hand to help the students make their designs come to life. Above, the team from Cook-Wissahickon gets their futuristic LED-lit dome construction underway. Below, Greenfield students mold clay (we used Crayola Model Magic) around a bowl that will become the base of their sword in the stone design.

Glue, paint and clay are drying. We’ll present the finished products in the near future. One last shot, though: A Nebinger student creates a spider (yes, he wanted it to have six legs—he had final say over that) from a hollowed-out football.

Thanks to the Water Works for hosting this event! Thank you to Jay Cruz, Sue Patterson, Darya Drahun, Chris Nies and Nicholas Chaya for bringing art supplies, tools, and assisting the students.

21 Apr

The Story Is On The Cover

Photo: Neal Santos/Philadelphia City Paper

A huge thank you to Philadelphia City Paper for featuring the greenSTEM Network on the cover of last week’s issue. “The Story Is In The Soil” was written by digital media and film editor Paulina Reso, and it efficiently captures the many facets of this project. Namely, the environmental benefits of the Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters plan, the unique partnership between the city and civic hackers (thank you, Jarvus Innovations), and the impact our work can have in Philly public schools whose STEM education resources can be stretched thin. (Also, the pull quote from Nebinger 8th grader Amir Woodson couldn’t have been better scripted in an after-school special: “It will teach me how to love plants.”)

We also got a really nice writeup over at Generocity, a fantastic resource for more info on social innovation in Philadelphia.

16 Apr

Student Design Competition


Last week, judges met at the Fairmount Water Works to view the submissions for the greenSTEM Challenge, a student design competition to create artistic, original housings for the sensors set to be installed at three Philadelphia schools later this month. Competition was fierce—the student team at Greenfield who submitted the zombie head design deserves an honorable mention—but we selected three winning designs: a sword in the stone (Greenfield), a spider (Nebinger), and a futuristic light-up dome (Cook-Wissahickon). The winners are below; the next step is to gather the students for a day of building.

Greenfield Elementary: Zoe, Alexei, Jordan


Written Description:

Over the device we will put a block of foam that hardens for more durability. We will make a sword handle out of water bottles filled with paper and pipes. We will spray orange, brown, and silver paint on the pipes. We will also spray paint the foam silver. The end result will be an homage to the classic story of King Arthur. The wires will come out of the foam. The device will be obscured in a nice cover that complements the color of its surroundings and the storytelling we grew up with. The foam will be covered in dirt and rocks to blend in with the ground.

Nebinger Elementary: Amir


Written Description:

My project is a tarantula. I will have the device inside a Pelican 1010 casing with straws. I will put the wires inside the straws and have the other end connected to the head of the tarantula. I made it easy for you to figure it out in these pictures.

NEBINGER_design2 NEBINGER_design3

Cook-Wissahickon Elementary: Jonathan, Jhalil, Sean


Written Description:

We will have a plastic dome around the data-sending unit with LED lights inside the top of the dome. We will use battery packs to power the LED lights [to indicate] when it needs to be watered. We will use a circuit board to turn on the LED lights because it will be hooked up to the sensors.

Congratulations to the students! And thank you to the judges: Beth Miller (Community Design Collaborative), Alex Gilliam (Public Workshop), Lisa Wool (Partnership for the Delaware Estuary) Ellen Freedman Schultz (Fairmount Water Works), and Tiffany Ledesma-Groll and Jay Cruz (Philadelphia Water Department).