Engaging 7-12 grade STEM audiences using novel low-cost sensors as teaching tools for environmental science learning modules

Brian T Glazer, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States and UH Manoa SMART Ala Wai research and education team
Beginning in November 2017, a team of 21 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty and staff initiated a student-led water quality observation and sampling network in the Ala Wai watershed, estuary, and adjoining reef. While UHM researchers have the expertise required to understand the watershed and make recommendations for restoration efforts and resilience-building, the Ala Wai has previously only garnered limited research attention; the resulting lack of data has hindered efforts to understand and properly manage the watershed. The City and County of Honolulu, as well as public organizations, and a diverse group of 7-12 grade schools are collaborating with UH researchers to integrate STEM research with community engagement, resulting in the smartalawai.org project. Here, we will provide an overview of project activities, and report on engagement opportunities that have been generated through: (i) developing and deploying low-cost water level and temperature sensors, (ii) providing freely-available web-streaming meteorological and water level data, (iii) hosting six training workshops for secondary school teachers and interested public organizations, and (iv) classroom visits, including presentations and activities, prioritizing culturally relevant and place based understandings of the watershed. Together with community stakeholders we are working to establish a comprehensive monitoring and sampling network, and a data dissemination/outreach plan. This will help inform restoration and resilience efforts in the ahupuaʻa while providing first-hand undergraduate and graduate education and research experiences with meaningful outcomes of relevance to the local community. The SMART Ala Wai project also presents a unique opportunity to catalyze interdisciplinary collaborations across UHM units, to provide an infrastructure for future research and training activities, and to promote thoughtful management of this vitally important ecosystem.