HESPERIA — Today the term “applied learning” is popular in schools, but sometimes how to conduct it isn’t clear — that is, until an innovative thinker finds a way to take classroom learning into real-world settings.

Eleven-year-old Madison Brown is one such innovator recognized for thinking outside of the box when she chose her award-winning science project this year, entitled “Is Your Future High School’s Water Safe?”

Brown, a fifth grader, was the winner from Krystal School of Science, Math & Technology in the recent Hesperia Unified School District science fair competition. Additionally, she was selected for the “Top Water Award” from the Mojave River Watershed Group (MRWG) for her project, which met the “water wisdom” criteria of reflecting “water awareness, protection and conservation.”

Inspired by a visit she took to the Palmdale Water Reclamation Plant last year and by hearing about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis in which more than 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in drinking water, Brown hatched the idea of testing local water.

“I was trying to see if the older the high school, the more contaminated the water would be,” Brown said. “Since Victor Valley is our oldest school, I thought that its pipes would be really bad.”

Brown collected an indoor and an outdoor water sample from each high school she tested — Adelanto, Apple Valley, Granite Hills, Hesperia, Oak Hills, Serrano, Silverado, Sultana and Victor Valley — and used a test strip in each to measure chemical contents like phosphate and nitrate. Her older brother, Chandler, got the test strips from Harvard University, where he studied environmental engineering.

An important thing to look for was iron, Brown said, since while “iron helps your blood flow, too much can kill you.”

“The majority weren’t bad — they were where they needed to be,” Brown said of the local schools she tested, but added that she learned it is usually best to “bring your own water.”

Although most California schools aren’t required to test their drinking water for lead, the Flint crisis inspired a new bill in the State Assembly that might change that. AB 746 would require schools to shut off any drinking water sources that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Since January, California schools can receive a free drinking water test thanks to an initiative from the State Water Resources Control Board, in cooperation with the California Department of Education — but only upon request.

Brown said she was “shocked” to go on to the district science competition, where she also found out about her “Top Water Award.”

“I didn’t quite know I was going to go because there were some other very good science projects in my class,” Brown said.

Brown said she enjoys Krystal School’s focus on “technologically enhanced curriculum” and math and science, since she is considering following in her brother’s footsteps at Harvard.

“I’m kind of debating between becoming an environmental person or becoming a famous volleyball player or a chemist,” Browns said. “My teacher does a STEM project every Friday. It’s fun for me to learn about the environment there.”

For next year, Brown is already looking toward possibly doing further testing of the high contaminants in water, or testing air quality.

For more information on the Mojave River Watershed Group and the “Top Water Award,” visit www.mojaveriver.org.

Charity Lindsey may be contacted at clindsey@vvdailypress.com or 760-951-6245. Follow her on twitter@DP_Charity.