In my first year of teaching, I was asked to develop resources for a new Environmental Science course offered at my school. We were situated in the sixth-largest city in Canada, and funding for field trips seemed to diminish more and more each year, so developing hands-on activities for a course of this nature presented a huge challenge:
How do I get students in an urban community in touch with the environment?
Although miles of suburban sprawl surrounded us, complex environmental processes were constantly occurring all around us. They were just a little difficult to see. I decided to shift the focus of the course from simply “What is the environment?” to, “How do we study our environment?” Using parts primarily from Adafruit Industries, I made an environmental sensor. Temperature, humidity, light level, and ozone concentration data were collected using the DHT22 sensor, a photo cell, and Futurlec’s MQ131 gas sensor. A Boarduino and Xbee got our sensors talking to our school server and a 6V solar panel powered the beast. Everything fit nicely into an Otterbox and some Sugru provided stability and weatherproofing.
Our Pachube feed logs the sensor data and now students have real-time environmental information to analyze. I then made my own Flash visualization using Pachube’s XML feature. I’ve developed a few lab activities around using the sensor data. For example, my class examines the photochemical reactions that create smog by looking at the relationship between light level and ground-level ozone concentration. This leads to further investigations on how air pollutants can impact health.
The whole project can be viewed here: http://nextlevellabs.com/ozone.html
I’m hoping to eventually get other schools building their own sensors and crowd-souring environmental data. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if students across the world could share data and collaborate on environmental initiatives?