The RIFFLE Effect
Crozet Elementary 5th graders recently visited Monticello High School to share their work on RIFFLEs, a type of remote data logger they researched and built to monitor stream water quality, with Environmental Science students who have been working on a similar project. “It was a little nerve-wracking, but I felt excited to share what we built,” said CE student Hollin Smith. Inspired by the problem of contamination in Flint, Michigan, the 5th graders have tested their devices in Beaver Creek, Watts Creek, and Parrot Branch. So far they can measure water and air temperature, and hope to test for pollutants next. The students seek to create a network of RIFFLEs based on the open-source design. “We built this device to see if our water is clean, and we’ll try to get more devices to help us,” said CE student Daniel Jones.
Teachers Brandy Garbaccio, Justin Stauffer, and Betsy Agee led the class project, which combines Arduino technology with ecological stewardship, while also consulting with Albemarle County Learning Technology Integrator, Willy Kjellstrom. Though the MHS devices were more complex, the Crozet students understood their potential immediately. “They had more technology and more materials, so we could see how ours could improve,” said Jones. “It was a really cool experience.”
Food for Thought
Meriwether Lewis School’s Kitchen Manager Cindy Tichner recently received not one but two awards from the School Nutrition Association for her work inspiring kids to eat well and try new foods. For the third time in the past six years, she and her staff won a Physical Activity & Nutrition Award, this year for their creative annual Wellness Week program. The cafeteria partnered with the P.E. department on fun innovations like Taste Test Tuesday, when the students tried edamame beans and corn and black bean salad, and Water Wednesday, which featured fruit-infused water paired with a stop-and-drop music and dance party.
Tichner also received the State Manager of the Year Award for her kitchen ingenuity dating back to 2000 when she started at MLS. “My motto is, kids eat with their eyes,” said Tichner, “so we arrange our trays with appealing colors.” She finds a recipe for every vegetable harvested by the students from the school garden, including the huge quantity of sweet potatoes they grew last summer. “The taste has to be not bland but not too overwhelming,” she explained. “They’re just developing their taste buds, and I try to win them over.”
A random sample of Brownsville Elementary 5th graders pilot-tested a week-long NASA simulation program, along with similar groups in four other county schools: Baker-Butler, Greer, Woodbrook, and Hollymead. The simulation was built by the Challenger Center in partnership with NASA and NOAA to give students a technology-driven outer space experience right in their own classroom. The students used internet-linked videos, games, and other activities to work through a problem-solving mission—their underwater Remote Operated Vehicle became damaged by a seaquake, leaving them cut off from oxygen. After researching and fixing the ROV problem, the students wrote about and reflected on what they learned.
“It was very engaging for them,” said lead teacher Karen Morris. “There was lots of engineering and creative thinking, and it was really valuable instruction.” The unit is tied to Virginia SOL standards for the study of oceans and related STEM instructional goals. Morris hopes to share the experience with other interested 5th graders later this year.