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Artificial Floating Islands: An Integrated STEM Unit


The integrated science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) unit described in this article focuses on Artificial Floating Islands (AFIs), human made structures capable of supporting aquatic vegetation on a floating platform. In the last decade, many European countries and the United States have recognized AFIs as a successful tool for longterm habitat restoration (Somodi and BottaDukt 2004 Winston et al., 2013). AFIs create nearshore mini ecosystems on a water surface without occupying any shoreline space (see Figure 1). The AFIs consist of floating platforms to support vegetation. The roots of the vegetation growing on the AFI extend into the polluted water body underneath and clean water through the absorption of pollutants. AFIs can move up and down with fluctuating water levels and can be mobile (unanchored) or stationary (anchored) depending on the type of water bodies they serve (see Resources for more information on how AFIs are used). In this STEM integration unit based on AFIs, middle school students learn about remediating polluted aquatic ecosystems through measurement and data analysis and then use this knowledge to design prototype AFIs for cleaning up a polluted lake. The unit consists of five lessons (see Figure 2 for an overview) and is designed to take a week however, a teacher can take up to two weeks if more time is spent on a certain lesson within the unit. These lessons do not have to be conducted successively. The unit is designed to address ecosystem dynamics and water pollution along with science and engineering practices such as defining problems, designing solutions, and understanding stability and change in ecosystems (see Figure 3). Before starting the unit, students need to have some basic knowledge about the relationships between living things, their environment, water resources, and causes and effects of water pollution.