EcoSensors for Mountain Classrooms

ecosense1.jpgThis past year, researchers from the Geology Department at Appalachian State University, partnered with local school teachers to bring advanced digital sensor technology to their science classrooms. The initiative was made possible through an EcoTech Grant awarded to Marta Toran by the Captain Planet Foundation. CPF is a grant-making foundation that has funded over 2,000 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and non-profits that serve children in all 50 U.S. states and in 23 countries internationally. More than 1.2 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects. For more information go to The Research Instititute for Environment, Energy and Economics at AppState also provided funds to help purchase the equipment for this project.

 The “EcoSensors for Mountain Classrooms” program aims to help students develop a deeper understanding of local environmental issues such as stream water quality through the use of Vernier LabQuest 2 interfaces and an assortment of digital environmental science probes that they may otherwise not have access to in school. It allows students like 6th grader Griffin Hayward (pictured right), to study environmental education concepts outside of the classroom and apply science skills like observation, measurement and data analysis in real time using devices that are used at the university level and by researchers in the field.

 Students are able collect field data using the probes, for example to determine the health of our mountain streams or how soil quality plays a role in streambed restoration. They can then use this data and engineering principles to develop models to study environmental problems facing the mountain community back in their classroom. By engaging in hands-on investigations using this technology, students can develop an understanding of how environmental solutions can incorporate sensors (eg. wind turbines adjustment, remote water quality surveillance, dam monitoring, flood control and applications of remote sensing technology).

Mrs. Debbie Norris’ 6th grade class at Cove Creek School was one of the classes that participated in the program this year. They used the soil moisture, conductivity and pH probes to verify the best site around the school to set up a garden.


Mr. Ben Reeves’ 8th Grade class at Hardin Park School worked with Dr. Bill Anderson, a hydrologist in the Geology Department, to collect stream water quality data and learn about his research. Dr. Chuanhui Gu, specializing in environmental hydrology, also talked to a group from Avery Middle School about the use of water monitoring stations along Boone Creek while they did their own water sampling using the Vernier probes. 


Mrs. Kim McAulay’s 8th grade classes at Cove Creek School also learned how to use the digital probes. They were studying past evidence for the Earth’s history and looking at ice core data. They used pH and salinity probes to analyze the chemical composition of simulated ice cores, to learn how scientists can model ice core proxy methods for tracking climate change.


Marta Toran, from the Secondary Science Education program and Geology Department partnered with Watauga High School science teachers Mr. Kevin Shaw and Mr. Josh Roberts to sample different spots along Hardin Creek. WHS had just received their own classroom set of Vernier interfaces and probes, so the timely session provided some hands-on training with the equipment.


It was a successful pilot year of the program thanks to the collaboration and feedback of local science educators to which we are very grateful, and we hope to continue developing additional materials for other topics and grades. For more "action shots", check out the photo albums at

ecosense6.jpegThe data interfaces and environmental science probes, as well as the supporting teaching materials, are available to local teachers free of charge as loaner kits through the website


Published: Jun 30, 2016 12:00am