The Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to integrating sustainability into K-12 curriculum. As part of the Citizen Science: Inquiry to Action program, CELF educators work with middle school classes in New York City and Houston to implement an interdisciplinary, place-based project focused on air quality monitoring.

In the course of the project, students assess an environmental concern in their local school community through a six-step process: Inquiry, Collection, Analysis, Collaboration, Innovation, and Action. After generating a driving question that is meaningful to them based on neighborhood air quality concerns, students develop a research plan. The AirBeam is a critical tool employed during the data collection step. For several weeks, students regularly and frequently walk their neighborhoods measuring particle pollution with the AirBeam. Some classes observed spikes near the highway, next to the smokers at a neighboring construction site, and near the rear of an idling ice cream truck.

By uploading their data to the AirCasting platform, students can visualize the changes they observe in their pollution exposures and share their data with the AirCasting community. Once they collect their air pollution exposure data, students work collaboratively to analyze their observations, determine how best to visualize and present their findings, and generate solutions to the environmental challenges they uncover. One group of students designed an air filter for vehicles to block particulate matter. At the end of the project, students present their findings to local policymakers at a symposium.

Use of the AirBeam + AirCasting platform enables students to connect their learning with real-world concerns grounded in their own communities. By sharing their findings alongside professional researchers and other community members on the AirCasting website, students recognize their place in the wider civic community. Their voice and their work have meaning beyond the classroom, which is a powerful motivator. As 6th-grade teacher Celenia Nivar of Central Park East II in East Harlem observes, “As a result of CELF’s program, my students realized how much they can contribute and educate people around them so that all living things can have a sustainable life. Through researching and examining air quality in the neighborhood, and the causes and effects of air pollution, they woke up to how they could immediately start acting to ensure a healthier future.”