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.

  • chairs-classroom-college-289740 by .

Oh, They Breathe? Connecting Schools to Student Needs.

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

You get what you measure.  When schools measure their success by the answers on test results, the importance of other factors, like physical,  social, and emotional health can be left out of the equation.

schools need to meet the needs of their students

Study after study will point out the importance of exercise in improving the health and learning of students, but physical education and recess are reduced to add more time and resources to tested subjects.   

Study after study will detail the importance of school conditions on the health and learning of students, but districts often fail to make needed repairs and renovations which could improve those conditions.  This is particularly true in poor school districts like Baltimore City Public Schools, which have suffered frequent budget cuts. 

Heating and Cooling

It is inadequate heating and air conditioning in Baltimore City Public Schools that has grabbed headlines.  Last winter when boilers failed, several schools closed for emergency repairs.  This year, many schools were closed half days for a week due to inadequate air conditioning.   It is stunning when our schools cannot provide moderate temperatures for our children which we would expect in any store, government or office building or prison.  The loss of classroom time and the disruption of academic and family schedules is tragic.  But temperature is only one of the factors that affects student performance.

Ventilation

Ventilation rates in many Baltimore City Public Schools are inadequate.  High Co2 levels can reduce student performance; inadequate air exchanges leave students breathing higher levels of indoor pollutants, increasing the likelihood of illness and asthma attacks.   In freezing winter days, you can see whole lines of windows open at some schools as teachers are trying to lower the temperatures in their overheated classrooms.  I used to squirm at the thought of the energy this wasted.  I still squirm, but I’m at least comforted that students are getting ample fresh air.

Asthma triggers

Dust, pests, mold and chemicals are frequent triggers of asthma attacks.  Schools with poor maintenance are more likely to have more asthma triggers.   Leaky roofs and plumbing can produce mold hazards, inadequate cleaning and pest control can result in airborne dust and pest allergens.    Children in Baltimore are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than children in Maryland as a whole, so asthma triggers in Baltimore City Public Schools may be sending a disproportionately high percentage of Baltimore children home or to a hospital with an asthma attack.  But we don’t know, because the school district does not track absences due to asthma. 

Nutrition

Baltimore City Public Schools offers free breakfast and lunch to all students, but not all students are eating these meals.  Many students arrive after breakfast service has ended.  Students often suggest that schools should offering fresher, more appealing food items.

Lighting

Classroom lighting is often cited as having a strong correlation to student learning and performance.  Most studies find that proper lighting, particularly from natural light sources (windows) is strongly correlated to student learning.  Some classrooms don’t have sufficient window light, but in many others, teachers are choosing to block out natural lighting for a variety of reasons: to project lessons on a screen, to control student behavior, to control classroom temperatures, or the blinds are inoperable. 

Building awareness of the effect of lighting in classrooms and developing appropriate choices for teachers could improve student health and learning.

Acoustics

Classroom acoustics determines whether students can hear the instruction, collaborate with each other, and focus on their work.  Loud fans, noise from other classrooms, loud announcement systems and bells can detract from the learning environment. 

A STEM Learning Project which connects schools to the needs of their students.

When students and teachers study how they can improve the health and learning conditions at their school, they are emerged in a hands on scientific investigation into improving their own environment and performance.   This can help connect the school to the physical, emotional, social and academic needs of students.

Here are some projects students could do at their schools. 

What is the optimal amount and source of light in classrooms?

  1. Test Light levels in 4 classrooms
  2. Test students
  3. Alter light levels (open blinds in 2 classrooms /turn off lights in 2 classrooms)
  4. Test students
  5. Survey students/teachers on their preferences for lighting

What is the existing range for temperature and humidity in our classrooms?  What is the optimal range?

  1. Select rooms to test
  2. Collect temp, humidity data
  3. Test students
  4. Control temp/(or wait until cold/hot temperatures)
  5. Test students
  6. Compare results.
  7. Survey students on the best temperature ranges.

What is the existing water quality at our school?:

  Test bacteria in water dispensers

  Test lead in water supply

  Test from inside school

  Test sidewalk near bus

Can students improve nutrition at the school?

 How old is the food?

 How much food waste?

 Are there other sources for food or ways to improve freshness and nutritional offerings?

 How many students refuse or choose not to eat?

 Survey and/or observe which students eat, which don’t.

 What effect do the vending machines have on student nutrition?  

How can we increase the number of students who eat breakfast?

Survey students

Test group of students in 1 or 2 classes.

Note: mice and cockroaches love leftovers.  If students eat in classrooms, they need to clean up.

How do asthma triggers affect student health and learning at our school?

Who has asthma?

How many asthma absences?

Survey

What are the asthma triggers in school?

Chemicals, cleaning agents, pests, dust, air quality.

How to quantify pests?

Survey, Pest Log, glue traps,

 

How do locked, dirty bathrooms affect students?

Are bathrooms available to students when needed?

Are bathrooms supplied and clean?

Survey students and teachers

Interview bathroom monitors, staff.

Can plants and air filters improve air quality in our school?

Measure and monitor air quality in classrooms

Introduce plants which clean air into one classroom

Introduce mechanical air filters into another clasroom

Remeasure the air quality in the classrooms

Compare the air quality in the test and control rooms.

Survey students and teachers on their opinions on air quality.in their classrooms.

Reporting Findings and Recommendations

The key to these projects are in the final steps: how do students innovate to try to solve these issues, how they report on their findings to their class, and to school and government officials. 

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.