The “No” Hypothesis

 “I don’t think it will work”. 

was neatly printed across the answer box, under the word, hypothesis.

I looked up from her worksheet, bent my eyebrows into a question mark and punctuated it with a “huh?”

The student shrugged a shoulder, but her face was sure and solid. “ I don’t think it will work.”

“Nothing is going to happen.”  Her tone wasn’t angry, or even disappointed.  Just calling it the way she saw it.  Seemed like she’d seen a lot of “nothing is going to happen,” and this just seemed like the next one in line.

We’ve been working in her class to help students study and improve the conditions in their school.

We’ve talked about things students wanted to change at their school and how we can study them, and innovate to create improvements.  One group of students wants to make school lunches better.  Another group wants to find a way to control the temperatures in their classrooms.  A third group wants to reduce asthma triggers and asthma attacks.

This student had noticed that the bathrooms were a mess.  Some of the sinks didn’t work. The toilets were often plugged up, and toilet paper could be missing.  Sometimes there wasn’t even a bathroom monitor around to open the door.

Her project was to check the bathrooms and report on their condition to the janitor and the bathroom monitor. 

But “nobody’s gonna do anything.”, she said.  Matter of fact.

Science is supposed to be calculating and methodical. Just the facts, based on what we know.   Based on a long line of “nobody’s gonna do anything,” her hypothesis that “It won’t work” is a likely outcome.

But the soul of science and innovation is hope—that we can find ways to make things better.                        

Poor health and learning conditions in our schools steal from our children. When students swelter through heat waves and shiver in the winter; when poor ventilation and asthma triggers sap the energy and health of students, there are no sirens that alert us to this theft.  No data is collected to show us the loss of potential caused by these conditions.  In the city with the highest asthma rates in the state, we don’t even track absences due to asthma at our schools.

When these poor conditions become the expected norm, it breaks the hope which is fundamental to science and education.   If nothing’s going to happen, why try?

I don’t know which hypothesis is more likely to prove true.

 But whether students can create their own improvements and hope in Baltimore schools—that’s a very important experiment.  Science teachers, consider trying it with your students.

How can Students Learn Science Without Doing Science?

posted in: Blog, STEM | 0

The experiment we are running in most science classes is whether students can learn science without doing science.

And this experiment is failing our students.

Yes, you can get students to memorize the periodic table and fill in the bubbles on biology tests by studying books and doing worksheets. If you push them hard, you might get a slight bump over last years test.

But how does that teach students to observe, form a testable hypothesis, and then design and perform an experiment to discover a solution to a problem?
It doesn’t.  

No coach would train their teams by giving up all their practice sessions so their players could read books about the Superbowl or fill out worksheets about the NBA. They know that practice is key to performance. It is how we learn.

Real science is about learning to observe, think, and innovate across a variety of disciplines. It is about curiosity and solving things. This is what the Next Generation Science Standards are expecting students do.
But like football, it takes practice to learn these key skills. And our students are not getting much practice.

Of course, students should read and learn about the scientific discoveries others have made. But they should also conduct their own experiments and make their own discoveries. This is the spark, soul, and hope of science.
This is where eyes light up and the Ah Ha moments start dancing about. Real science connects students to the joy and challenge of discovery. It teaches students that they are powerful, that they can create and improve.

Textbook science is boring and it alienates students.  So it’s no surprise that most students in Baltimore City Public Schools consistently score very poorly on math and science tests. This effectively excludes them from rewarding STEM careers in the center of a STEM economy.

We have to break free of our dependence on text book science if our students are going to have a chance to participate in STEM fields and careers. We have nothing to lose and a world of inventions and innovations to win.  Let’s start practicing.

Students Test Their Schools

Students Test their Schools

Students at Patterson High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute are about to get new science and environmental health laboratories: their schools.

Johns Hopkins and Cool Green Schools are partnering on a community research grant to provide three classes of high school students with mentors, testing equipment, and funding so they can study and improve the health and learning conditions in their school environments. 

Students will work with Keith Madigan, a building engineer, to collect data on environmental conditions which affect their health and learning. They will monitor several conditions including: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, asthma triggers, VOC’s, 2.5ppm and Co2.

Two public health students from Johns Hopkins, Arshdeep Kaur and Madison Dutson, will introduce students to environmental health research, demonstrate an environmental health study, and mentor students.

The high school students will propose and conduct their own research projects.  The grant provides students with testing equipment, $4,000 dollars to study and improve their school environments, and $1,000 dollars to communicate their findings.

This student research project will offer innovative STEM learning opportunities for students, but school facility staff, researchers and educators may learn important lessons from this project as well.  

Stay tuned, we will post updates on this project as it evolves.

Shan

Science out of the Silos

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

social working fin by .

 

 

 The New Scientific Breakthroughs:

            How and Who

 

When we list our most important scientific breakthroughs, we usually note the discoveries of new evidence: ancient bones, DNA, black holes and medicines. 

But could our biggest recent breakthrough be not what have found, but how we collaborate in our research?

There is a new paradigm for scientific research that could change how we study, what we study, and whether our research is useful in solving the problems it identified. 

Community research grants offer communities and organizations a collaborative role in researching health and social problems, training in scientific investigations, and a shared communication of the results and implications of these studies. For communities, which have never been offered a role in research studies other than unpaid lab rats, this is a big deal.

These partnerships can help communities develop research and design interventions to improve the lives of their members and clients. For scientists, these partnerships offer keen insights into the social, economic and cultural factors which affect these issues and ongoing access to these programs for follow up research opportunities which can test the effect of interventions as they are implemented over time.

My favorite opportunity for these grants is at K-12 schools where students and college researchers could collaborate on issues which affect the health and learning of students, their families and communities.  These collaborations could help enrich the science curriculum, develop mentoring partnerships that create bridges to colleges, and help schools become a locus for building healthy communities.

I love science and scientists, but I will not miss the high holy research design where lab coats and equipment appeared and disappeared without a trace save for a mention in a scientific journal or conference. The job of science is to create better understanding and better outcomes. When it descends from the tower of science, it is a valuable tool of positive social change.

I’m excited to see what we will learn, when we are learning together.

  • IMG_7440s by .

If you want students to learn, let them test their schools.

IMG_7440s by . Every year our schools test students. And every year these tests show that students in Baltimore City Public Schools perform far below state averages on all subjects. If we want better results, we need to invert the equation.

Students should test their schools.

This changes everything.

As students study their school, they become scientists, problem solvers and innovators.
Using scientific tools and protocols, students identify, quantify and analyze factors which affect their health and learning.
Then, they communicate, innovate, and engineer to create improvements in their school and their lives.

Since improvements in the school environment and operations benefit everyone in the building, this work creates a natural collaboration between students, teachers, staff and administrators as they seek solutions together.

• Can students, teachers and custodians find ways to reduce asthma triggers like dust, chemicals and pests?
• How can high schools screen students for vision problems?
• Can we eliminate bus idling at our schools?
• How can we improve student health?

How students test their school

Students use scientific tools and three different protocols to identify, quantify and analyze the health and learning at their school.

Tools for Schools (by EPA) is a checklist to identify asthma triggers at the school including chemicals, dust, pests, mold and bus idling. Early detection and remediation of asthma triggers can create a healthier school environment, lower absenteeism, and reduce maintenance and repair costs at schools. Students could identify whether green cleaning and integrated pest management protocols are being followed at their school and make or recommend improvements.

Operations Report Card (by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools) is a protocol for measuring the environmental factors that are correlated with learning: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, and ventilation. Collecting and analyzing these factors can identify problems which affect student performance and ways to create improvements in these conditions.

Energy Star Portfolio Manager by EPA enables students to benchmark and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in the area and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school building. Students will identify ways that the school could reduce energy use in a cost-effective manner.

Surveys developed by students will also help identify opportunities to help students succeed. The problems which students list on their anonymous surveys may not have been identified or addressed by administrators. Here are examples of issues we discovered during a project last year.

• Inadequate bus service caused some students to be late for school and others unable to attend after school programs.
• Some students wouldn’t drink water during the day because bathrooms were locked and hard to access.
• Cockroaches and mice were found throughout the building.
• Most classrooms were overheated during warm weather.
• HVAC systems were inadequately maintained.
• In some cases, teachers had refused to provide students access to water.
• Several students had severe vision problems which had not been screened or detected.

Discovering and remedying issues proactively enables schools to improve student performance and satisfaction prior to school climate surveys.

Mentors

Experiment You engages engineers, building and health professionals with students as teachers and mentors. Working with professionals to solve problems creates a bridge between their learning and potential STEM training and careers.

Teacher Training

Experiment You is designed to train teachers in a co-teaching model during in school instruction or after school programs. Teachers learn the skills and protocols for the program without having to attend professional development or certification courses.
Green School Certification and Sustainability
Experiment You can document the environmental work which teachers and students do toward gaining Maryland Green School certification. We can help schools apply for sustainability grants which would fund Experiment You programing and services to the school.

Extensions

In Experiment Us, students would compare the conditions at their school to public and private schools in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. Students would determine whether school conditions are correlated to the racial and economic makeup of the student body at these schools. Students would examine current and proposed funding and policies at the state, local and national levels and make recommendations.

In Building US, students use the knowledge they gained in the Experiment You project to participate in the 21st Century School Building Project and the neighborhood design process. This learning could be integrated into engineering, technology, art, design and work readiness classes.
As an after school project, it would enable students, teachers, community members and building experts to work on design issues before and throughout the public planning process. This could deepen learning, strengthen school partnerships and better inform process of the needs of the clients and the community.

Upstream, Downstream engages students in learning about the environmental issues in their region and neighborhoods. Students would study the watershed for the Baltimore region and the watershed from their school. Students would study the regional air shed, their local air quality, and how proposed policies on air quality could affect their health.

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:

https://semspub.epa.gov/work/03/103798.pdf

https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/dsp_ssppSiteData1.cfm?id=0300344#Why

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.

-shan
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