These Students Made a Surprising Discovery About Local Air Pollution That Changed Lives

It was the proudest achievement of their teacher’s career.

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Two eighth grade students holding smart phone as part of environmental science lesson

It’s tough to beat the excitement of a hands-on environmental science lesson that reveals the secrets of your local community.

For eighth grade students at Garvey Intermediate School in Rosemead, California, this kind of scientific learning was also life-changing.

Featured Image: Eighth-graders Kenneth Nosaka and Derick Duong (Photo Credit: Elaine Pang, Sing Tau Los Angeles)

Field Study to Measure Air Quality

In 2018, science teacher Michael Naka led his students in an environmental science field study to measure air pollution. Their study was part of a local community-wide collaboration through CLEAR in Schools, managed by the Coalition for Clean Air.

The students used the Kids Making Sense curriculum and equipment  to sample the air near a location where a freeway passes under a bridge. 

“It was kind of like ‘open-source science,’” explains Naka. “We actually stood on top of this overpass bridge with cars going underneath us, and we measured the pollution.”

Next … A Shocking Discovery

But then, things took a turn.

“Some kids wanted to stop and get a drink,” explains Naka, “so we went inside a fast food restaurant that was next to the freeway.”

A few students didn’t turn off their AirBeam air pollution sensors, and what happened next shocked everyone.

“We came back to the classroom, and we were looking at the data,” Naka recalls. “We noticed all these little red dots.”

Surprise Inside a Fast-Food Restaurant

The students analyzed a map showing their data and realized the pollution levels measured on their AirBeams skyrocketed when they entered the restaurant.

The students measured tiny airborne particles from a charbroiler that were as small as 2.5 micrometers—small enough to do damage to your lungs.

“The smaller particles are more dangerous,” explains Naka. “They actually get deeper into the lungs and can cause more health issues than the larger particles which normally get filtered out through your nose hairs and the cilia in your lungs.”

Michael Naka, science teacher at Garvey Intermediate Campus in Rosemead, addresses local officials and eighth-grade science students at the conclusion of an innovative air quality curriculum. Photo: Maria Hedrick

Teacher Michael Naka addresses local officials and eighth-grade science students (Photo Credit: Maria Hedrick)

Presentation to Community Members and Local Policy Makers

Naka and his students were invited to present their findings at a meeting organized by the Coalition for Clean Air. The meeting included local community leaders and members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s governing board. 

The students’ highly persuasive research presentation motivated top-level decision-makers to reassess the local environmental and safety regulations in their community.

Collaboration With Real Scientists 

Naka’s students prepared for their presentation by collaborating with air quality scientists at Sonoma Technology. The Google Hangouts between air quality scientists and Naka’s students are part of the Kids Making Sense program, which teaches students in grades 6-12 how to measure air pollution using cutting-edge science and technology and empowers them to create innovative solutions.

The Kids Making Sense science team at Sonoma Technology helps students prepare their presentations by giving them advice about speaking to a group of people, as well as how to organize the presentation to tell a story with the data.

The Kids Making Sense science team also provided Naka with virtual training before he began the environmental science lesson on air quality. The team works with teachers nationwide to make sure that the lessons align with the Next Generation Science (NGSS) and Common Core standards. They connect data with what’s happening in the world so that it’s meaningful for teachers and their students.

Proudest Achievement of Teaching Career

Naka, who has been teaching for 20 years, calls this environmental science lesson the proudest achievement of his career. And from the way he saw his students respond to the assignment, he believes it made them come alive, too.

“If you’re a student and you think ‘Wow, I could be part of a big experiment that could change people’s lives,’ then I think the kids get really excited about that,” Naka says. “This whole program was great because so many people were getting involved. I didn’t realize there are so many people out there fighting for better health.”

Empower Your Students to Solve Air Pollution Problems.

Want to teach your students about air pollution and empower them to make a positive impact on your community? Kids Making Sense kits include everything you need to teach fun and interactive lessons, activities, and collaborative projects that engage students in a STEM-based environmental science curriculum. Top air quality scientists and qualified educators developed the kits. Plus they include access to a real-life air quality scientist who provides training for teachers and Google Hangouts for students. Ready to learn more or get started? Just click the orange button below.

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These Students Made a Surprising Discovery About Local Air Pollution That Changed Lives