4CSCC hosted seven in-person and two virtual high school students participating in the Cultural and Academic Research Experience (CARE) in an evening workshop at NAU. The in-person students had already participated in our 2022 summer event, therefore we decided to engage them in an activity that used the Raspberry Pis and data sensor kits to facilitate the experimental design process. Our lead instructor Franklin Stewart began with a presentation that provided background knowledge pertaining to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM) which included sources, examples, and health risks.

Franklin Stewart

Following the presentation, students assembled their kits and proceeded to test VOCs from a variety of household cleaners (vinegar, bleach, etc.) and PM from different household items (carpet, chalk, fabric, etc.). Students were given ample time to freely explore the effects of these materials on the data sensors by observing changes in real-time data on the data dashboards. The goal of this activity was to create opportunities to be creative, curious, and ask questions using information they recently learned about.

CARE Students

Following the exploration and observation phase, Jeff Meilander (4CSCC Educational Program Coordinator and Instructor), guided students through the experimental design process and building connections to observations made during their exploration activity. Students first designed research questions and testable hypotheses and then after group discussions about their feasibility, students chose variables (independent, dependent, and control) and conducted their experiments. Students investigated VOC levels produced by different household cleaners, explored the effect of distance of those cleaners on VOC levels, how air circulation affected the VOC levels, and one student tested how different face masks affected particulate matter readings. Students recorded data in data tables and made conclusions about their experiment. They were also asked to reflect on ways to improve or change their experiment and provided ideas for future experimentation.

We have wanted to integrate more experimental design activities into our workshops but time is usually the limiting factor. This workshop allowed us an opportunity to experiment ourselves so we can broaden our workshop curriculum and offer a menu that teachers can choose from when requesting a 4CSCC workshop. We anticipate that an “a la carte” style activity menu will allow teachers to design a workshop that better aligns with their teaching styles or curriculum.