By Peter Day
Lucerne Valley Virtual Academy students got a chance to learn the importance of caring for our environment by participating in several hands-on projects with other area students during the Mojave Environmental Education Consortium’s 2021 Virtual Maker Fair on Saturday, March 13th.
Usually held in-person, the students, teachers and others this year connected and communicated via Zoom. The Youth Environmental Leadership Club also was an event participant.
The four-hour event, which was moderated by MEEC’s Program Specialist Samantha Murray, was divided into an equal number of activity sessions, each demonstrating through hands-on, STEM-oriented projects the importance of taking care of our environment. Leading the activities were representatives from the Mojave River Watershed Group, Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, Daisy Gibson School STEM and SOAR School.
Participating schools included George Visual and Performing Arts Magnet (Adelanto), Sitting Bull Academy (Apple Valley), Maple Elementary (Hesperia), Lucerne Valley Virtual Academy, Barstow Jr. High, Fulton and Alsbury Academy (Lancaster), and Littlerock High School (Littlerock). The event was open to students ages 3-12 from schools within the High Desert portions of San Bernardino County and Los Angeles County.
Kicking off the event was motivational speaker Joel Greene who shared his “Three Keys to Being the Difference in the World” while telling the story of how his popular “Curiosity Quest” show on PBS was created. The show, which Greene serves as host and producer, is a family, educational TV show that explores what viewers are curious about.
No. 1, according to Greene: “Don’t let your inner critic have all the power!” He quoted Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right.” So don’t give into negative thoughts that could derail your vision.
The second key is to “Embrace Failure.” Greene quoted Elon Musk: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing then you are not innovating enough.” As an example Greene talked visiting the Fender Guitar factory in Corona. Fender tests their products until they fail, proving how durable their finish formulas actually are.
Green’s third key to making a difference is to “Let Your Passion Be The Guide.” “I’m living proof. I love what I’m doing!”
The first activity of the event featured “stormwater troopers” Marty and Elle from the Mojave River Watershed Group leading students in the making of a mock 3D watershed model of the High Desert. Over the course of 45 minutes, participants used an aluminum tray that they purposely filled with crumpled scratch paper to create a virtual Mojave River Watershed, complete with hills, homes, parks and more. Then they placed legal-sized paper on top that they colored with four different markers — red, blue, green and black.
The black dots symbolized pollutants such as dog waste, trash, water bottles, chip bags, lawn clippings, pesticides, fertilizers and the like. Houses and apartments were colored in red. The mountains were blue. The green markers were used to color locations such as parks. Finally, after the models were complete, the participants were directed to spray water on the model. The result? The four colors from the water-soluable ink began dripping into lower parts, and the ink became a mixture of colors.
“Under this paper is our water shed,” Elle said. “That’s why we have to keep our water clean. Pollution stays on low points. Look at all the water underneath and how not blue it is. That’s how stormwater pollution is created.”
For the second activity, Ryan Orr of the Mojave Desert AQMD, led the students in creating a virtual breathing machine using a plastic bottle that represented lungs, balloon as a diaphragm, along with straws as a trachea.
Orr, a former journalist, said that air pollutants can be extremely dangerous to our lungs, which we use to breath 20,000 times a day and an estimated 400 million times by the time we reach the age of 50.
There are several dangerous air pollutants in the area such as Particulate Matter PM10, which are relatively coarse particles that come from dust, soil and bio-aerosols, and PM2.5, a fine pollutant coming from carbon, lead, sulfates, nitrates and other material, Orr said.
“It can get into lungs.”
“Without food you can last about three weeks,” according to Orr. “Without water we can last about one week. But without air you can last only a few minutes.”
After completing the project, Orr and his wife Sierra, who served as his assistant, brought home the message by demonstrating how the makeshift human lung could effectively breath.
John Kell, an 8th grade teacher and STEM Coordinator at Daisy Gibson School, helped the students make a paper circuit stop light using Air Quality Index card, magnet, copper tape, red, yellow and green LED diodes and a small C2032 button battery. Kell is an MEEC Executive Board Member and active participant in the organization.
The project served as a beginner lesson in electrical circuits with the teacher instructing students to flip the battery over in the event the LEDs didn’t light up. The electricity only goes in one direction, he explained.
The final activity of Saturday’s event was led by high school senior Cullen Stockdale, who helped the participants make a replica car using a mouse trap, 4 CDs as wheels, two metal pieces, string and more. Stockdale is currently enrolled at SOAR High School, a dual enrollment college-high school program. He is very interested in STEM and environmental stewardship and has presented at the Youth Environmental Leadership Club.
After it was finished, Stockdale demonstrated that the object could actually move. “Wind it up and watch it roll!”
Founded in 2001, the non-profit MEEC is headquartered at the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District in Victorville, which also serves as the organization’s lead/founding agency. MEEC’s programs are 100% funded through sponsorships of different levels provided by 40-plus businesses and agencies.
MEEC’s annual centerpiece event, the Solar Cookoff, will be digital this year with individual students submitting PowerPoints of their research, oven, recipes and temperature check.