Pre-academy educates middle-school teachers through bioenergy workshop

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Samir K. Khanal, (808) 956-3812
Assistant Professor, Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering
Miles Hakoda, (808) 956-3093
Posted: Nov 16, 2011

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The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Fostering Inspiration and Relevance through Science and Technology (FIRST) Pre-Academy, led by College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering Samir Khanal and graduate student Devin Takara, provided a unique opportunity for Hawai‘i middle-school teachers to pilot Khanal’s hands-on display of bioenergy in the classroom. 
On November 5, 2011, four FIRST Pre-Academy Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) teachers—Jennifer Kuwahara (Mililani Middle), Margaret Magonigle (Hana Middle), David Wong (Ewa Makai Middle) and Erin Yagi (Waipahu Middle)—received laboratory training from Khanal and Takara in a St. John Lab. The goal of the workshop was to impart key concepts necessary to establish hands-on lab experiences in bioenergy for middle-school students so they can develop and apply skills related to physics, chemistry, math and biology disciplines. The meeting served as a follow-up to the FIRST Pre-Academy RET’s April 2011 workshop on bioengineering. 
At the April workshop, Khanal thrilled attendees with a demonstration where he used energy released from microbes found in soil to power an LED light. Since then, he and Takara worked to develop the very first Bioenergy Lab Manual for Middle School Teachers.  All of the procedures in the manual were fully and meticulously tested during Summer 2011 by UH Mānoa undergraduate biological engineering student Nora Robertson, who worked under the close supervision and instruction of Khanal and Takara. The manual is intended to be provided free of cost to all middle-school science teachers within the state.   
During the November meeting, the teachers created and took home devices to teach their students the concepts surrounding microbial fuel cell, biogas and biofuel. Khanal and Takara demonstrated how to run quick and simple experiments with students in a typical Hawai‘i classroom with limited resources. Among the experiments were biofuel from canned juice, do-it-yourself microbial fuel cells in jelly jars, and biogas from cafeteria food waste. The total cost of materials used amounted to less than $10 apiece, well within range of most budgets. The four participating teachers are excited to implement the devices and concepts using the middle-school appropriate procedures written by Khanal and Takara.
Khanal and Takara maintain a high level of hope that the experiments will excite and inspire middle-school students to pursue studies in science and engineering. Collaboration and dissemination of the laboratory manual and supporting materials will continue throughout the year with the next two trainings scheduled in January 2012 on Maui and O‘ahu.
Photo captions (photos courtesy of Kendall Kido)  
#1: Erin Yagi of Waipahu Middle observes the gas bubbles generation.
#2: From left, David Wong of Ewa Makai Middle, Margaret Magonigle of Hana Middle, Jennifer Kuwahara of Mililani Middle, and Erin Yagi of Waipahu Middle pose with the devices they built.