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.

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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. 

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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.

Experiment You

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

How Students Can Improve Their Health And Learning.

 

Our schools constantly test our students to measure their achievement.

But if we want to improve student achievement, it’s time for students to test their schools.

 

  • Are classrooms too hot or too cold?
  • Are pest and mold problems causing asthma attacks and absences?
  • Are students getting enough exercise and water?
  • Do students need glasses to read the board and their textbooks?
  • Does poor bus service cause students to be late or miss school?
  • Are lunches nutritious and palatable?
  • Why are so many students still failing to succeed in math and science?

 

Challenging students to investigate and improve their health and learning engages them in a meaningful, real world scientific inquiry.

It is a perfect fit for STEM, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core curriculum. 

Students get hands on training for careers in health, building, teaching, and social science.

 

Students see how they can use science and innovation to improve their lives.

 

Experiment You  engages students as scientists and problem solvers in a very real and important experiment: how can we use our learning and innovation to improve our lives?

As a STEM based inquiry, students use surveys, observations, and tools to benchmark their health and the health and learning conditions at their school.

 

Surveys
Students learn to create and use surveys to gain information on student health and school conditions.

How many students have missed school because of asthma related issues? What classrooms are too hot or cold? Where have students seen mold, mice or cockroaches? Are students getting enough healthy foods, sleep and exercise?

 

Tools for Schools
Using the Tools for Schools walk through assessment from EPA, students discover and report asthma triggers at their schools.

 

Operations Report Card
Using the Operations report card protocol from the Collaboration for High Performing Schools (CHPS) students collect and analyze data on the temperature, humidity, air quality, lighting and acoustics.

 

Energy Star Portfolio Manager
Using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, students can benchmark the carbon footprint of their school and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in their area. Students identify ways to eliminate energy waste at their school.Solving for …us.
After collecting this data, students are challenged to create improvements in each of these areas. Finding ways to improve their health and the conditions at their school engages students in real world problem solving at ground level.

 

  • Can cross ventilation reduce excessive heat in classrooms or does the air conditioning need to be fixed?
  • Why are the outdoor security lights on in the daytime?
  • How can students help reduce the amount of pests in the school without chemicals?
  • How can we reduce asthma related absences at our school?
  • Is there an easy way to screen students for vision problems?

 

Engaging students in solving problems which they face,

challenges them to take control and responsibility of their own learning and futures.

 

Every school is a laboratory and every student is an experiment.

The question is whether our students will remain lab rats running a maze, or whether they become scientists and innovators, using their learning to improve their conditions and outcomes. This is rich learning that grows the confidence and competence of our students. It is time.
-Shan

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Experiment YOU

experiment you by .

In the experiment of our lives, we are either the lab rat or the scientist.  This is an important choice. Scientists win Nobel prizes. Things go badly for rats.

Shan

Experiment You
Engages students as scientists, innovators and engineers their own life experiment.

How can you become stronger and healthier?
How can you learn and remember more?
How can you create successful futures for yourself and your community?
Students will choose one personal goal and one group goal.
Students create baseline measurements of where they start, develop a plan and chart their progress as they work to accomplishing these goals.
Teachers and parents can also join in, developing their own plans to accomplish their goals.  It is important that students see adults working to achieve goals.                                                                                         And there is no better enforcement mechanism than a classroom of students looking over their teachers progress.

Experiment you enables students to use their own observations, learning and problem solving skills
to solve problems that matter to them.

Try this for a month in your classroom..and let us know how your experiment comes out.

The Importance of Being Insistent

The outdoor lights are blazing away trying to keep up with the bright sun shining outside of North Avenue–the Baltimore City Public Schools district office. It’s an interesting welcome to a meeting on sustainability policy.

 
But inside the board room, something is different. Purpose and determination.  As Cheryl Casciani, a school board member pages through the draft of the sustainability policy, she is pointing out parts of the policy that staff need to revise.

 
“Encourage isn’t strong enough,” We need to change it to Insist.”

 
Peering over her glasses at school officials, Casciani moves quickly through the document to ask for stronger policies to protect children. Her points are quick, thoughtful and insistent.

 

“I’d like all toxics out of our schools… stop bus idling in front of schools…it’s a health issue.”
For a school district that still hasn’t implemented green cleaning as required by the state, this insistence toward progress is necessary and overdue. Plagued with poorly maintained schools and a lack of resources, change will only come when it is demanded and verified.
But how can we verify that changes in policy to improve the health and learning of students will be implemented in our schools?

 
Let the students do it.

 
Let our students use their school as a science laboratory, gathering and analyzing data on factors that affect their health and learning. Using common professional tools and protocols, our student can monitor, analyze and report on the environmental factors that affect their health and learning.

 
Students can use Tools for Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to proactively find and report issues that could trigger asthma attacks if left uncorrected. Using the Operations Report Card by the Collaboration for High Performance Schools (CHPS), students can monitor classroom ventilation, temperatures, humidity, and acoustics. Adding their school to the data base of the Energy Star Portfolio manager enables them to compare their energy use to similar schools and to calculate cost savings of energy renovations or improved operations.

 

 

As a hands-on science project investigating air quality, health, energy, engineering and technology, it aligns perfectly with Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core, Maryland Environmental Literacy requirements and STEM. This project studies the school as a system, integrating knowledge from the health professionals, facilities managers, custodians and teachers to improve the health and learning conditions at the school.
The information that students provide to the district could avoid or remedy health hazards, reduce repair costs and identify potential cost savings. In a pilot project at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, students and faculty noticed excessive water charges over a several year period. The city water department has now credited over $447,000 back to the school district. Not bad for a one week project.
This project empowers students to use science and innovation to improve their school environment, their learning, and their lives. We owe them this chance. Let’s insist upon it.

For all of our children, thanks, Cheryl.