Living Sustainably: Students make their own discoveries with air monitors

LIVING SUSTAINABLY:  Students make their own discoveries with air monitors

By Susan Ipri Brown, Hope College

Students are naturally curious about the world around them. So why not let that curiosity drive their learning?

Simple and compact air quality monitors developed by resident Don Triezenberg are doing just that through a program managed by ExploreHope, Hope College’s educational outreach center. Partnership with the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute expands the community relationship of the project.

The simple air quality monitors are equipped with carbon dioxide and particulate matter sensors.

Students can use them to test the air in and around their homes and schools. Through that process, the monitors have introduced science lessons to more than 300 middle and high school students in West Michigan.

Students are challenged to first discover how the monitors work through experimentation. Then, with guidance from their teachers, they design and carry out their own experiments. This student-directed learning sparks the interest of the students and allows the teacher to engage the students in a directed discussion of the related science.

While the data from these monitors are not yet calibrated to a high enough level to publicize as community air quality assessments, the findings provide powerful examples to illustrate how environmental conditions can change based on a variety of conditions. Students are investigating questions related to changes in air quality in different sections of their homes, or how the air composition changes as all the students show up for school in the morning, or the effect of humidity on air quality. Teachers are observing that students in a range of classes benefit from use of the monitors, with implementation in chemistry, math, biology and environmental science classes as examples. Middle school students in Grand Haven even started to challenge their teacher to learn how the weather and other conditions affected their data.

This week the monitors are at West Ottawa High School’s AP calculus classroom. These students have just completed their AP tests, and their teacher wanted to keep them engaged in the final weeks of school. Not only will the students be exploring real-time data collection, designing experiments and data analysis, they also will see the topics covered in their classroom in real world applications.

The monitors won’t sit idle over the summer, either. They will be used in the Hope College Summer Science Camp program managed by ExploreHope. Middle school students will explore the impact of energy generation, and high school students will explore experimental design in a week-long camp. More information on these programs is found at

Teachers interested in hosting the monitors in their classroom next year should reach out to Additional community partners and supporters are welcome. Funding for new monitors is needed to reach the growing classroom demand.

What’s next? Only the students can tell us that.

 Susan Ipri Brown is director of ExploreHope and instructor of engineering at Hope College.


Boy scouts2.jpg The air quality monitors are used during a Boy Scout Environmental Science Merit Badge Day at Hope College.

students.jpg Students examine the workings of the air quality monitors they get to use for testing and experiments.

Monitor.jpg – These simple but effective devices monitor carbon dioxide and particles in the air, letting students devise and test their own experiments.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme:

Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.


Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.