Science out of the Silos

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

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 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.

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Youth Summit

posted in: Healthy Schools, Home, News and Issues | 0

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Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD

Associate Dean, Public Health Practice & Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talks with students about health disparities in Baltimore City during a Youth Summit at the Cylburn Arboretum. A recent report on health indicators in Baltimore found that there remains a 20 year disparity in life expectancy between neighborhoods in Baltimore City.

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New Baltimore City health report.
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Students demonstrate how to isolate DNA from strawberries during the Youth Summit in Baltimore.
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Students examine the strands of DNA, separated from strawberries during a demonstration at the Youth Summit in Baltimore.
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Students at the Youth Summit in Baltimore plant flower seeds in a a small planter that they were given to take home.
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Participants at the Youth Summit in Baltimore take a stroll through the woods at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.
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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

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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.

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Learning about the Real Stuff

In a room filled with scientists, researchers and government officials, two seniors from City College High School, Nil Walker and Cameron Potts are answering questions about their summer research project. They explain how they collected and counted mosquito larvae, tested the water quality and velocity in local steams and counted pollinators. Potts tells how they used timothy grass immersed in water to attract mosquitoes and how they detected leaking sewage in the Gwynns Falls. “First it smelled like outdoors, then it smelled like eggs, then it smelled like the real stuff, he says, wrinkling up his face at the thought of the “ real stuff” in the stream.

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Nil Walker, a senior at City College High School in Baltimore, talks about his environmental research and his college plans at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study annual meeting.
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Cameron Potts, a senior at City College High School in Baltimore discusses his summer research with the Young Environmental Scientist program, YES-BES.

Potts lights up as he talks about this research. “If I had found out about this earlier, I would have joined as a freshman.” “I want to learn this stuff to be able to help my community,” Potts said.
Professors and researchers are leaning in, asking where they want to go to college, handing out their cards.

Bob Shedlock, a retired researcher from USGS shook hands with the students. We don’t feel like there are enough people working in our field. We want to encourage them, he said.
While Baltimore simmered through a summer marked with conflict, these students spent five weeks doing real science to help understand and improve our environment and our community.
The program, YES BES, is a youth outreach program run by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. This summer it paid 20 students to do environmental studies in the Baltimore area.
The program is searching for funding for the upcoming summer. If you would like to support this program or know someone or some organization who would, please contact Bess Caplin at 410-455-1863 caplanb@caryinstitute.org

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Alan Berkowitz photographs Nil Walker and Cameron Potts, seniors at City College High School in Baltimore, with their poster on the ecological research they did this summer in the Young Environmental Scientist program sponsored by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. Berkowitz is BES Education Team Leader with the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

The Annual meeting of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study continues today at the Cylburn Arboretum Vollmer Center at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209 from 9am –noon.
A reception featuring art and design connected to ecological research in the Baltimore area is 5:30-8pm at 16 W North Avenue, Baltimore, 21201