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Hands-on science

HANALEI — Picking up beach trash and studying turbidity, students on Kauai are diving into science through hands-on projects that are helping them make both learning and life connections.

On the North Shore, the fifth-grade students of Pauette Adams recently hosted Carl Berg of the Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force in their classroom. He taught students about mixtures and solutions, using a science approach to water quality analysis.

Students measured salinity in ocean water, river water and fresh tap water to show the dilution of salinity by the introduction of fresh water into the ocean at estuaries. They also made experimental dilutions, testing their predictions by adding zero salinity tap water to the environmental samples.

The second experiment used Surfrider’s Turbidimeter to measure the turbidity, or cloudiness of the water samples and the effects of dilution.

“Dr. Berg helped me to see salt water and river water are solutions that are all around us. Science is all around us no matter where we go,” said Elena Rose Wilson, fifth grader in the class.

Neil Edmands, another student, said he got a greater understanding of the scientific method and its value, and fellow classmate Hayden Wilson-Wyle said she learned the theory behind why water testing is important in general.

“It’s important to test for clean water to make sure that it is healthy and not bad for you to drink and swim in,” Wilson-Wyle said.

Adams said bringing experts like Berg into her classroom has a “major impact” on students’ learning because they are able to see firsthand how subjects like math and science are being used in daily life.

“Dr. Berg is able to bring in technological equipment that our campus doesn’t normally have access to. This allows the students to practice the use of collecting and analyze data directly related to our health and to our daily lives, living on the island” she said.

And at Kauai High School, freshman Jacob Lester is taking science out into the field to better understand the island upon which he has lived his whole life. He’s gearing up for a science fair and decided to study the distribution of marine debris on Kauai’s beaches.

His initial research indicated that some 13 billion pounds of trash is recovered from the ocean annually on a worldwide scale and wanted to see how much of that is caught on Kauai, and where.

“I decided to pick up trash on four different beaches and then check the tides and see which beach has the most trash and where that trash is coming from based on the tides,” Lester said. “All the trash I picked up is, at most, 10 feet from the ocean.”

Trash was collected on beaches at Kekaha, the pier side of Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach and Kealia.

Lester enlisted the help of friends from different schools and on December 15, each collected trash from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then they weighed it, garnering 1,047.94 grams (about two pounds) in total.

“I found stuff like cupcake wrappers, fishing net, a lot of napkins,” Lester said. “I still have it right by my house. I’m going to throw it out (eventually).”

From understanding what changes water quality to calculating the amount of trash clogging up Kauai’s beaches, Kauai’s students are benefiting from hands-on and in the field lessons that teach them how to understand the world around them.

For Lester, that means discovering how much trash is really accumulated on Kauia, and “how we as humans…have been living and what we have done to pollute our beaches and oceans.”

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