Category Archives: Social Innovation Lab

Watershed Mapping and Research Curriculum For High School Students

Go With The Flow: Empower Students to Investigate Their Water System Using Maps-Based Research Methods


Real-world research & interviews

Classrooms will use inquiry-based learning to connect with and learn from their community. The research will challenge them to take an active role by questioning, documenting and engaging audiences in professional settings.


Curriculum aligned with Core Standards

Go With the Flow is appropriate for high school English, science, and geography classes or courses with a focus on the environment and sustainability. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are emphasized throughout.


Documentation & web-based sharing

Students will flex their writing muscles with an investigative report, learn best practices for creating online content and practice sharing and engaging audiences via maps, their own blog and HabitatMap.

Leveraging AirBeam Data to Inform Policy Decisions

Leveraging AirBeam Data to Inform Policy Decisions

Carting Workers’ PM2.5 ExposuresAirbeam is a great example of the type of senor network platforms Rock 'n Renew helps implement for local communities, schools, and businesses. When these platforms are installed, it makes local municipalities existing systems much more efficient. Knowledge really is power!

New York City recently committed to implementing a “zoned” collection system for the commercial waste sector. By dividing the city into zones and having commercial carting companies bid to service each zone, the city’s study found that the number of miles traveled by private collection vehicles will be cut by an astounding 49 to 68 percent!  This is a win for both the private carting companies, which will be able to achieve dramatic efficiencies in operations, and everyday New Yorkers, who will have to contend with less noise and air pollution. 

AirCasting: Recording, mapping, and sharing health and environmental

Air Caster Crowd Sensing Platform
Air Caster Crowd Sensing Platform

As Rock ‘n Renew prepares to launch our biggest program yet, The EcoBlockchain, we are in the final stages of researching the best Internet Of Things technology for EdTech and Environmental Management. Air Caster is a fantastic example of the types of platforms we are bringing together under one easy-to-use framework.

AirCasting is a platform for recording, mapping, and sharing health and environmental data using your smartphone. Each AirCasting session lets you capture real-world measurements, annotate the data to tell your story, and share it via the CrowdMap.

Using the AirCasting Android app, AirCasters can record, map, and share:

  • Sound levels recorded by their phone microphone;
  • Temperature, humidity, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations recorded by the Arduino-powered AirBeam;
  • Temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) gas concentrations recorded by the Arduino-powered AirCasting Air Monitor;
  • Heart rate, heart rate variability, R to R, breathing rate, activity level, peak acceleration and core temperature measurements recorded by the Zephyr BioHarness 3; and
  • Heart rate measurements recorded by the Zephyr HxM.

Using AirCasting Luminescence, these sensor streams can also be represented using LED lights.

To start recording, mapping, and sharing sound level data for your neighborhood, simply download the Air­Casting app to your Android device and press record.  Want to record Air Quality data? Buy an AirBeam, download the AirCasting Air Monitor DIY guide, or build your own monitor and connect it to the AirCasting platform.

Who Uses AirCasting?

There are thousands of active changemakers currently using the AirCasting platform, including community-based organizations, schools, research institutions, and citizen scientists interested in health and environmental monitoring, electrical and mechanical engineering, design, rapid prototyping, and open source code. We are actively recruiting additional AirCasters to join our movement. We are seeking . . .

Instrument Makers interested in developing AirCasting compatible sensor packages for new environmental and physiological sensing applications. It’s simple to connect your own custom-designed sensor package to the AirCasting app to display and record measurements in real-time.

Educators & Community Leaders interested in applying science, technology, engineering, art & design, and mathematics to address urgent environmental issues where they live. Schools and community organizations are the vital link between our technology and its application to real world problems.

Open Source Coders to push the limits of what’s possible with the AirCasting platform – gamify, add social networking layers, improve instrument performance & communications – the possibilities are truly endless. Because sharing information freely empowers communities to develop their own best solutions, everything we do, from hardware to software, is open source.

Citizen Scientists from around the world to take measurements, contribute to the crowdmap, and make change! We live in a world where expert knowledge is no longer the exclusive province of experts, where citizens, armed with affordable and accessible instruments, can make unprecedented contributions to scientific understanding.

ATTN Hardware Developers

It’s simple to connect your own custom-designed sense device to the AirCasting app to display and record sen­sor measurements. Just do the following:

  • Download the AirCasting Arduino sketch, which controls the sensors and sends data to the app via Blue­tooth.
  • Alter the Arduino sketch to communicate your sensor data.
  • Use the AirCasting app to send your data to the AirCasting servers for display on the AirCasting website. Want to send the data to your own servers? Just specify the URL in the AirCasting app settings, “Menu” > “Settings” > “Backend settings”.

Open Source

AirCasting is an open source project. The AirCasting app and website code is on GitHub as is the AirBeam firmware and the electronic schematics for the AirBeam. The STL files for 3D printing the AirBeam & LiteBeam enclosures can be downloaded from Shapeways.

How to Use the AirCasting Maps

The health and environmental data collected by AirCasters can be filtered and displayed on the AirCasting website maps using one of two views: “CrowdMap” and “Sessions”. Use the tabs on the filter menu located on the right hand side of the screen to toggle between the two. The CrowdMap view is the default.

The CrowdMap displays AirCasting data from all contributors. Each square’s color corresponds to the average intensity of all the measurements recorded in that area.  Click on a square to view the underlying data. Refer to the “Heat Legend Units” to identify the intensity range for a square. For example, an orange square corresponds to an average sound level between 71 and 80 decibels. If no colors are displayed, there’s no data in that area.  Note that the relationship between measurement ranges and colors can be adjusted using the “Heat Legend Units” filter.  By default the CrowdMap displays sound level data from phone microphones. To view data from other sensors, use the “Parameter – Sensor” filter.  You can also filter the CrowdMap by “Location”, “Time Range”, “Tags”, or “Profile Names”. Increase the “CrowdMap Resolution” to display averages for smaller areas. Click “submit” to display your filter selections.

The Sessions map displays the routing and intensity information for AirCasting sessions.  To view a session, select a session from the “Sessions List” located on the left hand side of the page. A dot’s color corresponds to a measurement’s intensity at that location. Refer to the “Heat Legend Units” to identify the intensity range for a measurement. For example, a yellow dot corresponds to a sound level measurement between 61 and 70 decibels. Note that the relationship between measurement ranges and colors can be adjusted using the “Heat Legend Units” filter.  Hover your mouse over a dot to generate a tooltip with the exact measurement. Filter the AirCasting Sessions list by “Parameter – Sensor”, “Location”, “Time Range”, “Tags”, or “Profile Names”.  Click “submit” to refresh the Sessions list. To view multiple sessions at once, you must first select a “Parameter – Sensor”.  To graph the measurements from a single session, toggle the “Sessions Graph” arrow at the bottom of the screen.  Hover your mouse over the graph to see the corresponding location on the map along with the measurement for that time period.  Zoom in on the graph by clicking and dragging with your mouse or clicking the time frame buttons at the top of the graph.  When zoomed in, pan through the data using the slider at the bottom of the graph.

To get a better view of the map, hide page elements by toggling the arrow in the upper right hand corner. Generate and share a permalink using the permalink button in the upper right hand corner or simply copy and paste the address from the browser window.

AirCasting is a HabitatMap Project

HabitatMap is a non-profit environmental health justice organization whose goal is to raise awareness about the impact the environment has on human health. We build tools to support grassroots environmental organizing, including – our community mapping platform – and AirCasting.


There are dozens of people who contributed time and effort to make AirCasting a reality. In particular, we’d like to thank Marcin Kostrzewa and the Lunar Logic team for their work on the AirCasting software, Raymond Yap for prototyping AirCasting hardware and firmware, Tim Dye for advising on data quality, Chris Cosentino for designing the AirBeam and LiteBeam enclosures, Garrett Berg for designing the AirBeam PCB, Thomas Deckert for designing an early version of the AirBeam enclosure, Dave Young and Guan Yang for consulting on the AirBeam PCB design, Alex Besser for his work characterizing AirBeam performance, and Iem Heng, who is gone but not forgotten, for his work prototyping AirCasting hardware and firmware.


The AirCasting platform and the AirBeam would not have been possible without the generous support of our funders and the partnerships they’ve enabled. Support for AirCasting and the AirBeam have been provided by: Knight Foundation through a partnership between HabitatMap and Sonoma Technology; the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation through a partnership between HabitatMap and Newtown Creek Alliance and HabitatMap and UPROSE; the EPA through a partnership between HabitatMap and Sustainable South Bronx; the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund of the New York Community Trust through a partnership between HabitatMap and New York Hall of Science; the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network through a partnership between HabitatMap, Parsons the New School for Design, and New York Hall of Science; NIEHS, EPA, and HHS through a partnership between HabitatMap and researchers and engineers from New York University and Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab; New York State Pollution Prevention Institute through a partnership between HabitatMap and New York Hall of Science; the Grey Area Arts Foundation through a partnership between HabitatMap, Sonoma Technology, and AethLabs; and Google Earth Outreach.

Have Questions or Feedback? Contact Us

Contact us via email: [email protected], or call: 347.410.9499.

The Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab

Complex social problems are solved by creative problem solvers, with access to the best technology available. When creative problem solvers are given the best tools, and have access to each other, to work collaboratively with industry leaders, their communities, and local governments, and innovative businesses, this leads to truly innovative solutions to our biggest problems.

Rock ‘n Renew is preparing for a big announcement this summer, as co-founder Jonny Dubowsky has been working at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) developing a new project:
The Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab.
kite mapping

As technology rapidly advances, a growing number of new tools and systems have appeared, offering affordable and accessible new solutions to many social and natural capital problems our communities face.  Rock ‘n Renew is working with some of the world’s leading experts in a variety of interdisciplinary fields, to create sustainability solutions that harness the most advanced technology available.

New technologies are quickly creating a number of new jobs as well, and the Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab will provide educational training and guidance to the k-12 and college students we work with.

Stay tuned for a more detailed announcement as we prepare for a Fall launch of this exciting program.

In the meantime, check out some of the resources we will use in cultivating social innovation in your community.



Hans Rosling:Making Climate Statistics Exciting (so we will pay attention)

Distributing the burden and shouldering the solutions together to solve the population growth issues we are facing.
Distributing the burden and shouldering the solutions together to solve the population growth issues we are facing.

When handled with care – global statistics can help challenge common myths and misconceptions about the world, Rosling hopes. Chief among the myths still to be debunked, he says, is the idea that the world is split in two – with a developed world on one side and a developing world on the other. “We don’t have two types of countries any longer, we have four or five types … [and] the idea that the western world will be ahead of the rest for ever is wrong.”
This plays a particular role in the following video which shows how quickly things can shift.

Compost Tea

Ever wondered how to make compost tea?

“Compost tea is an effective, low-strength, natural fertilizer for seedlings and garden plants, and it can suppress fungal plant diseases. The tea-brewing process extracts, and in some cases grows and multiplies, nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi from compost and suspends them in water in a form that makes them quickly available to plants.”-Organic Gardening

Compost tea is great for your garden, and it is easy to make to! You can purchase bags of compost tea at the store, or you can just make your own.

compost tea

How to Make Compost Tea

There are two ways that you can do this.

1. You can place compost and water in a barrel or container with a 1 pound compost to 1 gallon water ratio. Stir your mixture with a stick for about 5 days. Strain the liquid from your mixture with cheesecloth or burlap.

2. You can also place your compost into a porous bag or nylons, using it as a tea bag. Place the bagged compost into a bucket of water and let it steep for several days.

Use the compost tea all over the garden. Your plants will love it!

Compost Tea Tips

1. When you brew compost tea, be sure to use mature, sweet, earthy-smelling compost. If your compost smells unpleasant, it could be anaerobic, and few beneficial microbes survive in this environment.

2. Don’t apply compost tea to any vegetable within 3 weeks of its planned harvest date.

3. You can add extra nutrients to your compost tea like molasses, seaweed, or fish emulsion.


An Edible Education

Here at Rock ‘n Renew, we love engaging students in gardening and an edible education. Our students get to spend lessons outside in the fresh air getting their hands dirty. They are able to get in touch with the environment and our agricultural roots in cities where it is hard to find much green space, let alone vegetable gardens.

School gardening projects are sweeping across the nation. Those of us who spend time with children in the garden have seen firsthand anecdotal evidence of how much gardening positively influences the lives of our students. It provides them with hands on education in science, environment, and local food systems. Students need direct contact with nature and our planet to appreciate and value its conservation. Unfortunately, urban spaces tend to be riddled with litter, graffiti, pollution, and tend to lack green spaces and fresh produce. Gardening helps our students reconnect to the earth and become inspired to think about their daily choices and how it affects the environment and their health.

Plant-based activities, gardening, and environmental studies provide great opportunities for implementing National and State Science Education Standards. Such opportunities go far beyond the basic study of plants themselves to include life cycles, ecosystems, soil, weather, organisms, and many science process skills such as measuring, charting, collecting data, and reporting.

One of the key premises of contemporary school gardening advocates is that garden-based lessons…

  • Help students meet performance standards across disciplines
  • Appeal to different learning styles
  • Apply concepts through the contexts of real-world experiences
  • Provide rich activities and experiences for students of all learning abilities
  • Are student-centered

We just finished composing a Rock ‘n Renew School Garden Guide. It is a comprehensive detailed guide on how you can start a school garden! We have several versions based on the scope and scale of your vision. We also have a special Garden Guide that was created by our students, for other students. Email us to receive a free copy.

Why Don’t My Squash Plants Grow Squash?


squash varieties

Squash comes in many varieties. There are zucchinnis, pumpkins, yellow squash, acorn, butternut, spaghetti. They come in different shapes and sizes and growing seasons, but they generally have similar planting and care guidelines. They grow on a vine and can spread out quite far. Make sure to have plenty of space for them. Each plant also produces a prolific amount of squash. Don’t be surprised if you end up with too much  and end up having to give most of it away. They have both male and female flowers. The female flowers are easy to identify by looking for a tiny squash below the blossoms. Male flowers are borne atop a bare stem.


Why Don’t I Have any Squash Growing?

Do you have many flowers growing on your plant, but not squash seem to be forming? Don’t be alarmed if your plants aren’t growing any squash. This is a very easy problem to fix. As stated, squash have both male and female flowers on the plant. The female flowers need to be pollinated by the male flowers in order to form the squash. If no squash is forming, this means that the female flower was not pollinated by a bee or insect. Luckily, it is very easy to hand pollinate. There are several ways that you can go about doing this. One way is to remove the male flower and rub it on the female flowers. You can also take a q tip and get the pollen off of the male flower and into the female flower. You can also just give the plant several good shakes and get the pollen moving that way.


Hand Pollination

Midtown School

Last Friday the Midtown School’s 7th and 8th graders visited our Bayonne Ecology Center. They did a lot of work to help get the garden in tip top shape. They helped clean the place up by picking up trash and weeding up a storm. They also added scraps to the compost pile and help aerate it. They planted many transplants including yarrow, heirloom tomatoes, several varieties of basil, thyme, and pond plants. The students set up our bird feeder and hummingbird nectar feeder. We can’t wait to see what birds show up to the garden! Some of our handy students started putting together a new picnic table for a relaxing place to sit in the garden. We can’t wait to work with Midtown School again!

Lincoln Community School

Students from Lincoln Community School learn about the benefits of organic gardening. With the help of Rock ‘n Renew, they built their very own school garden. They shoveled, mulched, and planted. It was a hard day’s work but totally worth it. Now Lincoln Community School has a garden in which students can participate in hands on learning experiences and have nutritious food once it is time to harvest.