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How a Wisp of air helps students learn science skills

  • Terri-Ann Berry teaches air quality 2021

Engaging young children in science is often a challenge, but this hands-on approach by Dr Terri-Ann Berry and the Environmental Solutions Research Centre team is teaching primary and intermediate students about the importance of air quality.

A Blockhouse Bay Intermediate class is buzzing as Unitec’s Assoc Prof in Environmental Engineering Dr Terri-Ann Berry leads a room of 12-year-olds jumping away to Baby Shark. It’s not how you would normally visualise a science lesson, but it has a great purpose—demonstrating how different items and behaviours can affect air quality.

The dancing increases CO2 levels in the room, which the students can then measure on a ‘Wisp’—a bright red air quality measurement device linked to a laptop. The students can then see how the air quality declines as CO2 levels increase.

Engaging young children in science is often a challenge, but this hands-on approach by Dr Berry and her team at the Environmental Solutions Research Centre team: German Hernandez (Research Associate, ESRC), Joanne Low (Research Associate, ESRC), Vibesh Bhawan (BEngTech Civil student), and Trudi Lapwood (Dip Surveying Student), is teaching our youngsters science skills to understand t a healthy environment.

After the group ‘baby shark’ dance session, the Wisp also tests the affects of substances such as hand sanitiser and nail polish air quality. They can watch the change through data being fed to their laptops in real time. After class, Terri-Ann also invites them to borrow a Wisp for a week to measure the air quality in their homes.

On a mission to raise awareness of air quality in our future leaders

Terri-Ann’s team has been visiting Auckland schools as part of a science outreach programme, which began with a Techweek event run in collaboration with Unitec’s Computer Sciences and supported by University of Auckland and Curious Minds funding.

Techweek was originally designed to investigate how human activity affects indoor air quality (te kounga o te hau o roto) and was run over two years to various schools, and organised by Unitec’s Director – Under 25s Success Andrea Thumath and the Unitec Pathways College team.

The aim of this school-based project was to create a class set of simple meteorological and air quality instruments (using low-cost components) which could be taken into classrooms.

“This helps students develop STEM skills and to learn how simple behaviour changes, such as better ventilation, can improve air quality their homes,” says Dr Berry.

A multi-disciplinary team at Unitec developed this equipment, in particular Dr Guillermo Ramirez-Prado (who designed the internal componentry) and Dr Cris De Groot from the School of Creative Industries who made the final design and spent hours 3D printing over 100 Wisp shells!

Read more about the development of this project on the Unitec Research Blog

This has led to other student projects with Computer Sciences including the development of a new phone app to allow students to see the data easily.

Several schools have taken part in the programme including Blockhouse Bay Intermediate, Kedgley Intermediate and St Kentigern’s Girls, and the hope is to continue delivering it to the end of the 2021.

Terri-Ann says it is important to make this type of outreach part of the curriculum.

“It shows our children how their activities, no matter how small, can impact their environment. We are aiming to develop a future community full of wonderful kaitiaki committed to better environmental outcomes.”