Students learn by testing pollution near homes

Posted February 27, 2011 12:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 13, 2011 1:03 p.m. EDT

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how Utah high schoolers are fighting pollution in their community – and learning at the same time.

Clearfield High School students live near Hill Air Force Base, where hazardous waste was mishandled from the 1940s to the 1970s. That resulted in contamination of some groundwater.

"There's actually some areas that are contaminated so bad that fumes rise up to the basements of people's houses," Clearfield High student Anthony Huffman said. "That can lead to cancer and other serious illnesses."

Clearfield's chemistry and biology students have monitored water quality in the area and worked with Hill Air Force Base's environmental restoration program since 2006.

"We were testing the water for nitrogen, oxygen, the PH, the temperature, the light source," student Whitney Maycock said.

Through a technology grant, the school obtained tablet computers that come with monitoring software and probes. Students explained the tablets make their research much more efficient.

"What the computer allows us to do is gain up to hundreds of readings within seconds or even a tenth of a second," student Massiell German said. "The percentage of error will be less with the technology, and that helps with our calculations that we make, the reports we write."

Teachers said that using the tablet computers teaches children that technology is not just fun, but practical as well.

"They think they're toys at first, but then they realize that these are really tools, and they do enhance our learning and understanding," Clearfield High teacher Bonnie Bourgeous said.

In turn, using technology to track pollution near their homes makes learning math and science more fun, and more meaningful, for students.

"It makes it become real life, rather than doing 30-60-90 triangles for trig. That gets really boring," Bourgeous said. "That technology can bring this alive for students."