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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.

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
410 336 8239

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.

  • IMG_0246 by Shan Gordon.
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  • IMG_0265 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_0268 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_0284 by Shan Gordon.
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Learning in the World of Wonder: Michel Anderson helps children connect and learn in the natural world

IMG_0289 by Shan Gordon.
Michel Anderson leads a tour of the garden, play areas and forest at the Waldorf school in Baltimore. Children help grow plants used to dye clothes, and chickens which produce eggs given to students on their birthdays.
IMG_0285 by Shan Gordon.
This note above the terrariums prompts children to understand the water cycle and sunlight exposure on plants.
IMG_0284 by Shan Gordon.
Terrariums in a windowed staircase enable students to pass by and observe the water and growth process.
IMG_0268 by Shan Gordon.
Paintings of nature are displayed in hallways. Note the attention to detail and how the images are stylized.
IMG_0265 by Shan Gordon.
Children used sticks, found items and small sculptures to build a miniature village.
IMG_0260 by Shan Gordon.
Teachers photograph children made projects during the garden and outdoor tour at the Waldorf School in Baltimore.
IMG_0329 by Shan Gordon.
Michel Anderson talks about some of the explorations and learning projects he and the children undertake at the outdoor after school program. Students have built shelters from sticks, searched for a colors in nature and created their own names for trees and animals. Anderson said the students also learn the common names, but that naming things themselves empowers the students. These names can be wonderfully descriptive and imaginative. Who could forget the Coconut Weirdo Tree?
IMG_0322 by Shan Gordon.
Michel Anderson talks about the need to keep the innate love of nature that children have, alive. The hours that children spend in observing and adventuring in the forest and gardens helps create that strong connection to the natural world.
IMG_0314 by Shan Gordon.
Willy Herrerra looks at the child made structure in the forest at the Waldorf School.
IMG_0303 by Shan Gordon.
Hay bales, purchased for a few dollars, provided a movable, changeable play structure for children.
IMG_0298 by Shan Gordon.
Michel Anderson supplies each child with a birthday egg. It is a big hit with the children at Waldorf. “If I forget, they will remind me”, Anderson said.