Growing STEM in Baltimore

As educators and foundations consider how to expand STEM learning in Baltimore, I’d like to offer a few recommendations.

First, define STEM broadly.
When we see STEM as a way of understanding and solving problems of all kinds, it becomes more than a club for kids who like robotics or computer coding.

STEM can help us do everything: it can help us cook better cupcakes, build better skateboards, improve our health, and design better bus routes. When we see that STEM is a tool kit to help us improve our world, it becomes available to everyone and applicable everywhere. Sure, STEM can stay in the science and computer labs, but what if we also let students in on the fact that its also valuable on the athletic field, the board room, the Mayor’s office and the hospital?

Second, use STEM to solve real problems.
I love Frisbee throwing robots as much as anyone, but does the world need another one?
When will we start creating STEM projects designed to solve real problems our students and our community are experiencing?

When are students going to help improve the bus service for their schools, test the water in their nearest stream or find ways to improve their health and learning?

Here are some quick ways to add STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore:

Water quality testing
Michel Anderson, an educator with Blue Water Baltimore is starting to train teachers to test water at their schools and local streams.
Funding to help transport students to their local streams could help students understand the water quality at their local streams. Putting these tests together in an online data base could help students (and everyone else) understand water quality in the Baltimore area watershed.

Benchmark health and learning at schools
Students can benchmark their health (asthma, vision and absenteeism) and the health of the school environment.
Using Tools for Schools from the EPA, students can identify existing asthma triggers like mold, chemicals and pests.
They can test the temperature, humidity, lighting and noise levels in their classrooms with the Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS). Entering their school energy use into Energy Star Portfolio Manager, enables students to compare the energy use at their school to similar schools and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school.

Engage students in the design of their schools and neighborhoods
The 21st Century School Building project, the program to construct or renovate Baltimore City Public Schools, is a perfect for STEM learning.
Students should be designing CAD drawings of potential school designs, talking with architects and construction managers, calculating construction costs and evaluating bus and walking routes.
But so far, students and their teachers are barely consulted in the design and citizen involvement process.
Why Schools could integrate this learning into their curriculum and engaging the citizen involvement processes with after school programs where parents, teachers, citizens and students work through these important decisions.

Revive Saturday Science
Don Thomas, an astronaut, ran a very successful Saturday morning program at Towson University where students could see and experience science programs which ranged from space exploration to crime scene investigations; from wildlife studies in the Amazon to pyrotechnics. This program was free and would fill an auditorium with students and parents interested in learning. After the program, students could sign up for a short lab experience.

Reviving the program (preferably with Thomas) would give Baltimore area students a great way to experience science.
If a local university isn’t willing to sponsor this program, perhaps it could be run as a collaborative with UMBC, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan and Towson taking turn presenting programs. This could be a great recruiting opportunity for these institutions as they show off their professors to their prospective students.

STEM by Design: Creating a Learning Ecosystem in Baltimore

There are colored charts and graphs,  people
huddled around tables staring at computer screens and writing on jumbo white sheets with large black markers as facilitators point to
survey results and  programs in other cities.

Let’s call it a STEM learning project for educators.

The project?

How to create a thriving ecosystem for STEM learning in Baltimore.

Around the tables are teachers from private and public schools, professors from universities, informal and after school
educators, environmental educators and staff from foundations.

STEM design for Baltimore
Educators look through graphics outlining existing STEM programs in Baltimore.

This is a room of very smart people, working hard to create STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore. This is a good effort. But even with great cooks, it’s tough to make a great chocolate cake without chocolate.

So where are the business leaders, the medical and innovation companies, the construction trades and government agencies?

STEM design workshop
Educators discuss the problems with silos and lack of industry participation in STEM education in Baltimore.

And where are the kids and their parents?

Sure, this is a daytime event, so kids are in school, parents at work, but when and where do they have a turn to talk about the type of STEM education that they want in their communities?

One of the best points at the workshop is that STEM learning should be available to everyone. Think of it as a thousand points of learning.

But in at least one group, “equable” was used to describe targeting STEM opportunities to those without resources.
The digital divide is big in Baltimore with students using state of the art computers and technology while other students may have to write and research their papers at home on their cell phones. In a computer coding program some students needed to be paid to learn computer coding or they would have to take a part time job to pay bills instead.

But in our attempt to provide STEM education “equably” will we create programs that are as divided by race, income and address as the rest of Baltimore?
There is an opportunity here to start programs which include students, parents, citizens and tourists based simply on their curiosity and willingness to learn.  We can create a culture of learning which is pervasive and inclusive throughout Baltimore.

Designing a STEM ecosystem in Baltimore
Business partnerships need to be increased and strengthened to improve STEM learning in Baltimore.

The question shouldn’t be whether we improve STEM education to students in poverty or whether we create STEM opportunities for everyone. It is how soon and well we can do both.

Leading to Leadership

Are Baltimore schools starting to pay attention to student
leadership and ideas?

It may be too early to tell. It is one thing to ask students to speak up.
It is another to listen.

But if the student leadership conference at Johns Hopkins University is any indication, students at Baltimore schools are willing to take on a larger role in changing their schools and their world.

Schools have traditionally been run as a top down dictatorship with students sharing the last rung of powerlessness with their parents.

So this invitation for students to express their voice and solve problems at their schools is encouraging.

Is it possible that this period of deep political and social conflict is the perfect moment to build leaders who actually solve problems?

Learning Everywhere, Always, For Everyone

If you are reading this, you know the power of free, immediate information available to you whenever you wish.
When was the last time that you learned how to do or fix something by watching a YouTube video or seeking advice an online discussion group?

EdX, Coursera, Khan Academy, Open Culture and Creative Live are offering courses and great learning free, every day.
Suddenly, every computer terminal has become a school open to anyone for free, 24 hours a day. At this school you choose your faculty.
You can learn from a professor at Harvard, a motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, a mechanic or a 12 year-old.

In an era where we are threatened by global warming and nuclear weapons, this global learning and enlightenment is our most important tool.
It creates a conversation of information, discovery and empowerment which is at once global and hyper-local.

Will the idea from MIT spur a better practice in Bangladesh, or will the idea and practice at Bangladesh create a better practice and ideas at MIT? Will an invention from India help purify water in China and heat homes in Finland? Will an online discussion between American and Syrian students deepen understandings?

Enabling individuals to gain skills and insights to help them improve their lives, families and communities has never been easier or cheaper.
So why is it that our school children are still reading old books and repeating facts and figures to satisfy a curriculum? Why aren’t they using this fountain of online learning to build skills and understandings that satisfy their curiosity and create positive changes in their lives and communities?

We have created our schools upside down, as factories for test scores instead of laboratories for real and relevant learning.
When was the last time a school asked its students or even it’s community what students should learn or create?
How often has the learning and work of the students improved the health and success of their community?

We have a chance to connect our students to the world of information and to use this knowledge to benefit themselves and their community.
Let’s connect our students and our schools to their world.

Air Monitoring in Baltimore, Anyone?

Anyone up for a grant application?

This could provide needed information on air quality in Baltimore City.

Aug 30, 2016
EPA Offers up to $80,000 to Communities to Develop Air Sensor Data Best Practices

EPA Connect

By Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer


Application Deadline: October 28, 2016
Announcement of Winners: Around December 1, 2016
Initial award: Up to $40,000 each to two communities to deploy air sensors, share data with the public, and develop data management best practices from sensors
Additional funding: Up to $10,000 each to the winning communities in 2017 based on their accomplishments and collaboration.

To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website.

I came to the EPA with a firm belief that data can make a difference in environmental protection. Since I’ve been here I’ve found that communities are leading the way by using data to understand local conditions and operate efficiently. That’s why I’m excited to announce EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge.

This new challenge encourages communities to install hundreds of air quality sensors and manage the resulting data. EPA is offering two communities up to $40,000 each to work with their residents to crowd source air quality data and share it with the public online. The projects will give individuals a role in collecting the data and understanding how environmental conditions affect their health and their community.

Air quality sensors are becoming less expensive and people are beginning to use them to measure pollution levels in their neighborhoods and homes. They’re developing rapidly, but most sensors aren’t ready for regulatory use. However, by networking these devices, communities can better understand what is happening at the local level. Communities will figure out where to place the sensors and how to maintain the devices. It’s up to each community to decide what pollutants they want to measure.

The prize funds serve as seed money, so communities will need to partner with other parties, such as sensor manufacturers, data management companies and universities. These partners can provide resources and expertise in topics where communities lack experience. In doing so, communities will learn how to use data analytics, which can be applied to other aspects of community life.

What does EPA get out of this? We’ll learn how communities collect, store and manage large amounts of data. We’ll also get a better understanding of the quality of data communities collect using sensors for non-regulatory purposes. We’ll see how communities transfer data from sensors to databases and visualize the results. Finally, the sensors will produce as much as 150 gigabytes of open data a year —data anyone can use.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy often says communities are “incubators for innovation.” We’re hoping the challenge will inspire communities to come up with innovative approaches for managing data so their residents and other communities can benefit. Show us how it’s done.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone’s rights or obligations.

Turning the Classroom Right Side Up

It is a community college literature class in Pennsylvania.
Laid-off mill workers, retirees and students fresh out of high school choose their seats and prepare for the first lecture.
Their professor, a big guy with eyes that brighten at this
new adventure looks out at the class and asks,

“Who is paying to be here?”

Some raise their hands quickly, others raise their hands almost
reluctantly, trying to understand the point.
Nodding at the forest of hands, the professor asks another question.

“Who is being paid to be here?”

At this, the professor raises his hand. He tilts his head to the class and says,

“Then I must be your employee. It is my job to ensure that this class meets your needs and expectations.”

Thinking back on this, the now retired professor glows with pride.

If teachers would greet their young students with a pledge to help them learn and grow, he said, then they could share this great adventure of learning together. Why force students to memorize and recite the prepared lesson of the day when they can learn so much more pursuing their own interests and goals?

In an educational system where curriculum is enforced upon
students, where is there room for curiosity, collaboration, and the
empowerment of students, teachers and parents?

This professor turned his classroom right side up, helping his
students find joy and purpose in their own learning and growth.

When I left him, the professor flashed that mischievous smile of one who inspires magic and delight in others.

So.. Your Plan is to Move the School Closer to the Superfund Site?

Ever discover something a little late into the process?

“You aren’t eating those blackberries, are you?..
Didn’t you know this is a Superfund site?”

The president of the neighborhood association was looking at me with concern as my blue stained fingers and lips were answering her questions all by themselves as I froze, wide-eyed in front of her.

Yes, I could still taste the six sweet berries I’d picked and devoured moments ago.
And No, I didn’t know that there was a Superfund site on the edge of the school property.
So I was quickly running the calculus on whether I needed to reroute their path from my digestive system.

Had the roots and stems of the black berries conveyed toxic chemicals into the berries?
Had the venting of chemicals at the site coated the berries?
Would I develop health issues from a six berry dosage?

Sure, it’s not the typical math calculation one would encounter at the high school, but it seemed like a pretty good STEM problem to work through in the next, um, 60 seconds as the berries were still digesting.

This is a perfect example of why it’s important to involve community members, students and staff into the school and neighborhood planning processes. They often know the area, its people, history, and potential often far better than the experts involved in the design.

The existing plan is to build the new school closer to the
Superfund site.

This is an excellent opportunity for students to investigate the history and remediation of the site and to offer information
and guidance to the school system on whether the new school should be built closer to this site.

Here are some links to documents concerning the site:

Here is a document outlining work at the site. Below this is a quick list of items that students may wish to research. -shan

EPA’s Involvement at this Site

•The EPA completed the first phase of the cleanup, removing drums and contaminated soils back in 1984. Approximately 1,200 drums were removed, some containing flammable solids.
•EPA also entered into a covenant not to sue with Bay View Golf Inc in 1997.
•The fifth five-year review for the soil capped area (Operable Unit 1 or OU1), which is currently a golf driving range, was done in April 2010 and found that the components of the remedy constructed as part of the OU1 Record of Decision remain protective of human health and the environment. The remedy for Operable Unit 2 has not been implemented, and therefore is not subject to review until construction of the remedy is underway.
•A Vapor Intrusion (VI) study was completed in summer of 2014. Three commercial buildings were found to have potential VI issues. A VI mitigation system was installed by PRPs at one commercial building in 2014 and mitigation work is in progress for another one.
•More monitoring wells were installed as part of Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS)and FFS.
•During Spring 2014 two pilot extraction wells were installed and the pilot extraction and treatment system is expected to start in fall of 2015. Data will be collected to evaluate hydraulics of the bedrock aquifer.

What is the current site status?

•During Spring 2014 two pilot extraction wells were installed and the pilot extraction and treatment system is expected to start in fall of 2015. Data will be collected to evaluate hydraulics of the bedrock aquifer.
What’s being done to protect human health and the environment?
•The site is being addressed through federal and potentially responsible party (PRP) actions.
•The agency chose a soil management plan to establish health and safety requirements.
•EPA has conducted several five-year reviews of the site’s remedy. These reviews ensure that the remedies put in place protect public health and the environment, and function as intended by site decision documents. The most recent review concluded that response actions at the site, for the parts of the remedy that have been implemented, are in accordance with the remedy selected by EPA and that the remedy continues to be protective of human health and the environment.

Enforcement Information

EPA signed an administrative consent order with the PRPs to perform a focused feasibility study to evaluate a different cleanup strategy for the groundwater.

Renewable Energy Activity

The 10-acre Kane & Lombard Street Drums Superfund site is located at the corner of Kane and Lombard streets in Baltimore, Maryland. For more than 22 years, an open dump for disposing of demolition, municipal and industrial wastes operated at the site. Disposal activities resulted in the contamination of groundwater and soil at the site. At the request of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), EPA investigated the site. In 1986, EPA added the site to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL). EPA worked closely with the local community, MDE, and a private investment group to design and implement a cleanup that allowed for the redevelopment of the property. As part of the site remedy, EPA removed drums of waste, installed a subsurface barrier to prevent further contamination of groundwater and constructed a permanent cap over contaminated soil. EPA also restricted land and groundwater use at the site to prevent exposure to contaminated soil and groundwater. Today, the property is home to a golf course driving range, a parking lot, a cellular telephone tower, a sea-land trailer repair facility and a trucking facility.

Here are some of the questions students could investigate:

Where did the barrels come from?

What chemicals did the barrels contain?

What are the estimates for leakage at the site(s)

What was done in the remediation so far?

What areas/buildings have been affected by the site?

Has there been recent testing? If so, what do these test show?

When was the aquifer at the site drained?

What did the water and air tests show at that time?

What was the legal settlement with EPA?

What about remediation 2? Was it started? If not, why not?

What is the area contaminated by the chemicals?

Good luck on this learning project. Let me know if you have problems finding information or if you need help.

410 336 8239

Real Life Lessons: Should Maryland Stop Smoking?

Teachers, if you are looking for a great STEM learning project which could help students understand health, climate change, politics and power,  look to our polluted skies.

Will Maryland choose to reduce greenhouse gases and pollutants to improve the health of our citizens and reduce the harm from global warming?  Or will we walk away from these reductions to fight a perceived threat of cheaper power production in neighboring states? 

This is an open question.

The state set a ambitious goal in April for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the path for creating those reductions is not clear.

When Governor Hogan began his administration, he refused to publish air quality regulations which would have required older, highly polluting coal fired power plants to reduce their emissions or close.  Now, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)  is considering whether Maryland will leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce a perceived power cost advantage of neighboring states.   The argument is that if neighboring states can produce power more cheaply by polluting heavily, then Maryland would suffer from the pollution without profiting from the generation.

This project enables students to learn about the health and environmental costs of our dependence on fossil fuels and to consider which power sources are the most socially, economically and environmentally viable.

In the following six video clips,  advocacy groups, the Secretary of the MDE and citizens testify in support of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and in support of Maryland remaining in the multi-state cap and trade program to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels.    No one testified in favor of leaving RGGI, but Ben Grumbles, the Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment discussed the possibility of the state withdrawing from the agreement.

What are the arguments which your students find most persuasive? Should Maryland consider the health and environmental costs of pollution when it calculates the price of energy?

What path would they suggest for the future of Maryland?

You can find additional materials in the resource section or email me at to create a project fitted to your class.


Grumbles on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Why RGGI makes economic sense..and dollars

The Maryland Department of the Environment is urged to set strong goals for greenhouse gas reductions and to act boldly in reducing pollution. Testimony was made at the Maryland Department of the Environment as they consider the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Officials have hinted of leaving RGGI if they perceive economic advantages going to neighboring states.

Environmental education and STEM projects to improve the health and learning of students