Grand Marais broadband project nominated for national award
Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) is a broadband partnership that was launched last year between Blandin Foundation, Northland Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. The trio made available a pool of grant funds for local organizations working to support a broadband-fueled economy in northeastern Minnesota.
Minnesota Children’s Press of Grand Marais was awarded a $35,000 grant from the funding pool to deliver broadband education services. Children’s Press launched Litter Lab, a program designed to teach elementary aged children how to use technology to help solve a community litter problem with the potential to pollute Lake Superior.
Approximately 65 children ages 5 to 13 collected litter last summer in the harbor area of downtown Grand Marias. The children sorted, categorized and inventoried the litter according to the GPS coordinates where it was found. Some of the categories included clothing, food packaging, plastic bottles and containers, general paper products, and hygiene products such as plastic dental picks. Their field data was then entered into ArcGIS, an advanced online GIS engineering platform made by Esri that uses interactive maps and data-driven analysis tools that rely on top-tier broadband service to manage data. ArcGIS produced reports that considered the types of litter, coordinates of the litter’s location and proximity of nearby trash and recycling receptacles. From the reports, the kids could develop hypotheses about why litter was more prevalent in certain areas of the harbor. They also theorized about alternate, less bulky and non-plastic packaging design and options for some of the more commonly found items such as drink cups and bottles.
“As the project progressed, the kids began to see themselves as problem-solvers,” said Anne Brataas, founder of Minnesota Children’s Press. “The report data spurred great group discussions about effective placement of community trash receptacles, size and shapes of receptacles to accommodate varying sizes of waste items, and potential solutions for reducing litter.”
Brataas believes the success of the Grand Marais project could prompt the concept spreading into other communities across northeastern Minnesota. Communities can use the data and reports to make decisions about community recycling and the placement, design and signage for public trash receptacles. It could also lead to a mass rethink of how people stay hydrated such as bottle-refilling stations to reduce the amount of single-use plastic water bottles.
Littler Lab will be recognized at the Esri Education Summit on July 10 in San Diego, California. Brataas was chosen to present preliminary findings of the Grand Marais project, “Kids Thinking Spatially, Acting Sustainably” at the annual Esri conference during the session titled Building Environmental Literacy Through Experiential Learning.
“Litter Lab is an excellent example of how technology in northeastern Minnesota can be used to creatively solve community problems,” said Whitney Ridlon, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation community development representative. “It engaged the youngest of our rural population in the broadband economy by showing them how technology and internet connectivity can be used for the betterment of their very own community.”
Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the AIR broadband initiative with $150,000 in Development Partnership grants. For more information email Whitney Ridlon at Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation or call her at 218-735-3004.