Designing litter catchers is merely the beginning of our E-STEM, or Environmental Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, challenge for our younger, one-day summer campers. With support from the National Environmental Education Foundation our educators are developing a series of innovative E-STEM design challenges featuring the Rappahannock River. Our campers learn about the world around them while working in small groups to design solutions to environmental problems they witness everyday.

Before handing out any materials, we engage our campers in a discussion of simple, yet powerful, environmental concepts in terms they can clearly understand:

Quiz yourself (answers below):

1) Is a watershed land or water?

2) What is the easiest way to keep our local natural water resource, the Rappahannock, healthy and scenic?

The Challenge: Design a litter catcher that will prevent various types of litter from entering a gutter system. We give our campers onion-type bags, knee high nylons, chenille stems, coffee filters, fabric, and repurposed aluminum to-go tops! Design and creation is up to the campers. We provide the means, not the model! Counselors apply hot glue and offer suggestions when needed. Since true engineering requires testing and re-design, our young campers gather around our test gutter to see how much of the various kinds of “litter” is prevented from entering our “stormwater” drain. They test and apply changes that improve their litter catchers while cheering each other on. The second part of our goal is achieved when campers realize that developing STEM skills is an engaging hands-on activity worthy of pursuit.

During the time campers are participating in our E-STEM program, they are surrounded by the ideas that our land and water are important and worth protecting. Our counselors strive to instill that our natural resources are valuable and that everyone’s ideas and efforts help to ensure they will be here for years to come. Our campers design litter catcher prototypes, build STEM skills, and begin to foster the idea that they can protect the world around them. We started with catching litter and ended by catching conservationists.

Nancy Stalik
Environmental Educator


1) A watershed is the land over which water flows as it reaches a collection point.

2) Keeping the watershed clean and healthy keeps the water clean and healthy.

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