DENTON (UNT), Texas — National Geographic awarded a University of North Texas research scientist a grant to support her work introducing middle school children to scientific research projects through citizen science.
Kelly Albus will lead an interdisciplinary team of faculty from UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute for a project that invites teachers and students to map air quality in their own communities. Albus, along with Dr. Lu Liang from the Department of Geography and Dr. Sara Champlin from the Mayborn School of Journalism, will utilize their expertise, along with a network of low-cost air quality sensors, to engage classrooms across Texas in ongoing research.
Through this project, educators will work with Albus and her team to place sensors, measure and analyze air quality data, and create maps of their findings. Classrooms will have the opportunity to contribute to critical human health research and be able to monitor their air in real time through online public databases. By using open-access Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, along with facial expression analysis and remote learning platforms, the team hopes to engage new and more diverse groups in environmental health education.
“They’ll learn about air quality and particulate matter 2.5, which is what these sensors measure, as well as GIS and geo-inquiry, which is the process of asking place-based questions,” Albus said. “The students will also have the chance to build their own research projects and compete in contests using the data they collect to analyze and put into story maps. One of the really cool parts is that if they just want to learn a little bit about particulate matter and be done, they can. But if they want to dig in and do an entire research project for the community, we’ll provide those resources.”
Albus will start with training teachers and pre-service teachers on ways they can best use the air quality sensor data and GIS in their curriculum. Initially, she planned to do in-person training at UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute in Denton and the Texas State University Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos.
With concerns about in-person gatherings, she and her research team are working on creating a fully remote training for classroom teachers and pre-service teachers, which would allow the training to scale across much larger areas.
“I’m very excited about the possibility of making this completely remote because that means it’s scalable. We can deliver it to any school district in Texas pretty quickly,” Albus said. “We also have an internship with the Student Conservation Association. Part of that internship will focus on inclusivity and diversity. We are working through access barriers experienced by underrepresented groups such as lack of internet connection and access to technology.”
The work is supported through the Texas Geography Education Fund with funding from National Geographic.