Science Education Outreach

ERIE Trainee Clabeaux teaches about her research at The Futures Academy in Buffalo (10-29-09)

ERIE Trainee Bernadette “Bernie” Clabeaux recently participated in a teaching opportunity called the "Green to Clean" Project involving 4th to 6th grade students at the Futures Academy in Buffalo, NY (Buffalo Public School #37). Clabeaux, a 2nd year ERIE Trainee and Ph.D. student in UB’s Biology Department studying the uptake of pollutant metals by algae, was invited to teach at the Futures Academy by "Keep Western New York Beautiful", a non-profit organization that promotes the beautification of the environment by educating and empowering citizens. Keep Western New York Beautiful is partnering with the UB's Center for Urban Studies and Grassroot Gardens of Buffalo on its NYS Department of Environmental Conservation funded "Green to Clean" project to educate Buffalo residents about soil lead contamination. In various sessions throughout the month of October, Clabeaux taught students the about the process of phytoremediation – the  removal of contaminants from soils using plants—and its potential to mitigate common urban environmental problems such as lead contamination.

Clabeaux and Kathleen McCormick, project manager for Keep Western New York Beautiful, designed educational material and activities to help guide student learning about the environmental and health effects of environmental lead contamination and on the potential role of phytoremediation in combating it. “Lead is a common contaminant found in the soils surrounding the Futures Academy and neighboring houses,” says Clabeaux. “Our goal was to educate the students on where lead is found, where it came from, and how it enters the body. We also wanted to provide them with one way to help resolve the problem, that is, by planting ‘phytoremediation gardens’." In addition to developing age-appropriate lecture materials on phytoremediation, delivered in four 45-minute lecture sessions throughout October, Clabeaux helped design in-class laboratory exercises to help students visualize how phytoremediation works. In the exercise, students placed cut white chrysanthemums in tubes with water colored with food dye. The white chrysanthemums transported the colored water into the stems and flower structures, changing the color of the flowers. “The transport of the dye is similar to what happens during the process of phytoremediation,” says Clabeaux, “where a plant accumulates a contaminant from the soil, and translocates it to above-ground plant tissues.  At the end of the period, students were excited that they could witness the color change, and even more excited to take the flowers home!” Students were encouraged to show the flowers to their parents to help reinforce their day’s learning.

In addition to the indoor experiments, Clabeaux and McCormick included outdoor activities in their educational mission, centered around the Futures Academy Garden. The educators brought the students to the garden and taught them about the various plants there known to accumulate lead. They also distributed seed packets to the students, with instructions on how to plant them on their own outside in the spring.  Says Clabeaux, “This teaching experience was a great opportunity for me to see first-hand how wonderful educating young students can be.”