Originally published in Issue 10
by Youth Press Team
(LanNi Harris, Tina Zhao, Equem Roel, Ainsley B, Erica Morales-Armstrong, Giovanna Mouzouras, Jaelyn Felton, Weronika, Emanuel Granja, Marsela Doko, and Finn Brennan)
Photos courtesy of NY Sun Works Youth Press Team
Sponsored by HortAmericas
On Friday, June 12, 2015, NY Sun Works held the 4th annual Youth Conference@MSC “Discovering Sustainability Science,” streaming live from the Manhattan School for Children PS333 Auditorium on 154 West 93rd Street in NYC. The conference was covered by the Youth Press Team composed by 7th grade students from PS333 and sponsored by Hort Americas, a company that develops growing media and hydroponic systems to inspire the farmers of the future.
This year’s conference featured forty-two 2nd to 12th grade students from NY Sun Works Greenhouse Project partner schools, including PS 333/Manhattan School for Children, Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School, County Prep High School, PS 84 Jose de Diego Brooklyn, and PS 208/Alain L. Locke Elementary School. Special guests included Clare Lowenstein, PS333 Principal; Dave Conover, Education Director of Clearwater; Dong-Ping Wong, Founder and designer of +POOL; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna; DOE Director of Sustainability Dr. Sharon Jaye; and Emily Fano of The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco Schools USA program.
The first session, “Building Sustainable Cities,” showcased student work on solutions to current problems found in city buildings and proposed new sustainable features for a Library and a Stadium. Students explained problems related to water conservation, energy use and renewable options, building materials, use of space, waste management, and urban food production.
“At the conference, sixth graders were talking about a lot of things that are normally used in buildings that can be very, very harmful to the environment. One example of something they talked about is Concrete. I learned a lot about how concrete negatively affects the environment and how often concrete is used in buildings” explained Finn Brennan, 7th grade student press team member.
6th grade Speaker Sophie Denhert explained how people from all the countries are starting to face challenges because we only have one percent of fresh water in our planet. “Water that we use to wash dishes, bathe and clean clothes goes straight down the drain. We each use about 40 gallons of water a day!” Sophie explained that drain water pollutes our rivers. She also explained about the benefits of using rainwater catchment systems and even suggested that designs to use in future constructions should include a collection surface, gutters, downspouts, pre-filtration systems or first-flush devices, storage tanks, and a distribution systems. “Exactly like in the [rooftop] greenhouse in my school.”
“We are responsible for the planet as it is now. And only we can make it better!” – Milah Carlone and Lea Singer, 6th grade students.
We can make a difference, no matter the size of the problem- Hayden Rainer and Danna Raqual Prusak, 5th grade students.
PS 208 students presentation expounded on the importance of urban farming and how can be connected to STEM in the classroom. They incorporate Math and ELA into their science-based elective, and lessons span far beyond plant’s life-cycle.
The second session “Building A Sustainable Future” showcased student work on hydroponic technology for urban environments. Students shared the final product of the innovative hydroponic systems they designed and built in their classrooms. Students from County Prep High School shared that “our goal was to construct a project that was functional and efficient. After having our design all sketched out we started construction. We used water bottles and other recyclable components to create the system. We learned so much about hydroponic technology, how can be simple, maximize space and food growth.”
Students from Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School spoke about their Hydroponic Hunger Solutions Project, in which they teach their community about indoor food production to achieve long term food security.
The third session “Building Sustainable Minds” focused on the advantages of hands-on and project-based education. Projects included the use and importance of PH data collection, the effect of additional water pumps in a hydroponic growing system, or enhanced design for the Ebb and Flow system. “We wanted to create something similar but better, and see which system affects plant growth more. We created a two-bucket system that unlike the ebb and flow system drained and refilled in one-go, and reused the water by continuously cycling it through the system. By reusing the water, this system would become more sustainable.” Sam Ferrera, 5th grade speaker.
The youngest students were 2nd graders from P.S. 84 in Brooklyn; they spoke about the importance of science and sustainability. “[We need to] save the plants from dying because if there were no plants we wouldn’t have fruits or vegetables,” Johan Gomez said. “It’s about the environment, because if we don’t have the environment, we will be extinct,” Olivia Tineobriones added.
Adult guest speaker Dong-Ping Wong, Founder and designer of +POOL gave an inspiring presentation about the design and purpose of +POOL which was especially engaging for Equem Rohl, a correspondent from the Youth Press Team. “Dong-Ping Wong wants to set up a way to swim in the Hudson and East rivers! He invented a way to swim in clean but natural waters. Wong describes +POOL as “[a] tangible project. It’s Something you see and you want to be in. It’s important but it’s also fun.” Dong and his team wanted to build a pool so that when people in NYC are so hot in the summer they have a place to go and swim. They have designed a giant filter so that you are swimming in the actual river. It will feel amazing to a have the city all around us.” Equem Rohl 7th grade.
The conference also included remarks by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and DOE Director of Sustainability Dr. Sharon Jaye.
I am the Manhattan Borough President, and let me tell you, we are trying to learn from you, from young people, to make not just Manhattan, but the whole city, the whole planet more sustainable. And we learn from you, that is really the message of today. […] Some are easy things to talk about, not so easy to also implement. I work with the solid waste advisory board, which is a group of 50 citizens and every single month they come together to talk about these issues. I bet you know more, you know more because you have this fabulous greenhouse classrooms, you know all about hydroponics, you know all about gardens, you know how to grow things. […] there are aspects of sustainability science that are crucial to me, and they must be at the front of decision-making. People can learn from you.
–Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
A special Green Flag Award was presented to the students of PS333 by Emily Fano of The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco Schools USA program. The Green Flag Award was given to MSC-PS333 after the school completed a rigorous seven step process. Youth Press Team member LanNi Harris notes, “We got this award because our school showed energy efficiency in our facilities, and for instituting environmental-themed curriculum.”
The NY SUN WORKS Youth Conference offers students a platform to share their scientific creativity resulting from their engagement with the Greenhouse Project, a NY Sun Works program. Promoting urban sustainability through science education, the Greenhouse Project approaches Sustainability Science through hands-on study of the interaction between humans, technology, and the environment. “I think it’s crucial to prepare grade-school children for the 21st century. They are the citizens of tomorrow. They are the ones who are going to find solutions to our environmental problems,” NY Sun Works, Executive Director Manuela Zamora said.
Youth Press Team member Marsela Doko interviewed Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna who believes that children are the future and that if we encourage children they can do anything. She said that’s what Manhattan School for Children has started and is a good thing for NYC. Diana added, “We are trying to create in Brooklyn, the same thing that you started here, by investing dollars. So we plan on building 12 new NY Sun Works Greenhouse labs and we are trying to be a part of the 100 labs built by 2020 that you all started here. You are the founders and we are continuing what you started, that is your legacy as students, changing the world, one laboratory-hydroponic classroom at a time.”
“This conference offers an opportunity for students to share their learning through the Greenhouse Project, which is a hands on science and sustainability education program of New York Sun Works.”
— Isabel Armstrong, 8th grade student.
CBS News coverage of the Conference:
To see a complete lineup of guest speakers and student presenters,
To learn more about NY Sun Works and the Greenhouse Project program,
NY Sunworks Featured Project
Sam Ferrera, Remy Roel, and Luca Desire Lanoix, 5th grade students at PS333
We decided that our project would be a new variation of the ebb and flow system used in the greenhouse [classroom in our school]. We were inspired by the cool way it filled with water, and then drained the water. We wanted to create something similar but better, and see which system affects plant growth more. We created a two-bucket system that unlike the ebb and flow system drained and refilled in one-go, and reused the water by continuously cycling it through the system. By reusing the water, this system would become more sustainable.
We made our system out of two buckets stacked upon each other, with water and a water pump in the bottom bucket. A tube carried water from the pump, through the bottom of the top bucket, and poured water on the top of the top bucket. Then, after the plant had extracted the nutrients from the water, the water flowed back down a narrow hole we created in the bottom of the top bucket.
We wanted to create a water purifier to remove the algae, but then realized that the water’s nutrients would have already been extracted by the plants. So instead we decided that every week we would change out the bucket water for new water.
We collected our data from two plants once a week for three weeks. We took the leaves off the plant, and held them out until they were as long as possible. Then, one of us measured the base of the stem to the tip of the longest leaf. We measured one plant in our system, and one plant in the ebb and flow system in the greenhouse.
The results we got were that in week 1, the leaves of the plant that got water from our system grew to four inches, while the leaves of the plant that got water from the ebb and flow system grew to three inches.
The results for week 2 were that the leaves of the plant that got water from our system shrunk to 3 ½ inches, while the leaves of the plant that got water from the ebb and flow system shrunk to ½ inch.
In our final week of data collecting, the leaves of our plant grew to 5 inches, and the leaves of the ebb and flow plant grew to 2 ½.
Our project taught us that plants can live in many different types of habitats/systems. The plant that was watered by our system grew, to a size different from the plant watered by the ebb and flow system. We learned that the ebb and flow system can be modified and still succeed in positively affecting plants. For example, you can change the drain times and the method of draining.
This also taught us that when you’re doing an experiment, you have to identify all of the things that may cause the results to vary (the variables), and then try to keep all of those things the same, except the thing you are testing. We also learned that it is better to have more data. If we had used at least several plants with each system, instead of just one for each system, it would have been easier to to see if our results were because of the watering system (the thing we were testing), or because of other things (like the amount of sunlight, or the age of the plants).
In the end, we showed that our system worked better than the ebb and flow system, and that the ebb and flow system can be improved. If we were to do this again, we would record data from more plants, and have three separate systems, two systems which we would design, to compare to the ebb and flow system.
NY Sun Works is a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. Through their Greenhouse Project Initiative they use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability.