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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.

IMG_0026 by Shan Gordon.
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

IMG_0008 by Shan Gordon.
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

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Amazing STEM Laboratory!

Last night my 10 year old son ran a DNA test to identify a jewel thief, investigated enzymes in milk, and identified sickle cell anemia using electrophoresis. Students from all over Maryland are able to do these and other experiments thanks to the Towson University’s Center for STEM Excellence. The Center loans out kits to do these experiments to schools throughout Maryland for free. They even pay the FEX EX shipping and return for the kits.

If schools can bring students to the SciTech Student Lab, TU-trained staff can lead students through a lab chosen by their teacher. There is a $10 dollar fee per student for the SciTech lab experience.

This is an amazing resource for Middle and High School students and their teachers.
The website is http://www.towson.edu/cse/

IMG_6847 by Shan Gordon.
Your students could be doing this. Zen Gordon, 10, uses the Towson University SciTech Student Lab to learn about DNA, enzymes and Sickle Cell Anemia. Steven Fenchel, a teacher from the Einstein Science School in Kensington, MD offers support. Fenchel came to the lab to be trained so he can check out labs for his students.
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Christina Romano, Education and Outreach Specialist, demonstrates how to insert samples for testing.
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Students mix and create their own testing media with powder from seaweed and distilled water. The porous structure of the seaweed enables the DNA to migrate through the media for testing.
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Christina Romano, education and outreach specialist, demonstrates how to conduct the experiment.
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A visit with the Diamond Backed Terrapins outside the lab is a great way to end the experience.
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Citizen 2.0: How Citizen Science is Reinventing Learning and Empowering Citizens.

The printing press. Democracy. The internet. Citizen Science.

Each of these educates, connects and empowers people. They are extensions of our hunger to learn, share information and create solutions. Opening science to more people creates a virtuous cycle that strengthens science and empowers citizens. Citizen observations greatly expand the data base for scientific studies. In turn, this expanded knowledge and understanding of science empowers citizens to take an informed role in shaping the choices in their communities and world. Smarter science, smarter citizens, smarter world.

A full room of teachers and informal educators discussed a wide variety of science projects and activities yesterday at the NOAA Environmental Science Training Center in Oxford, Maryland. We saw how citizen science projects are enriching learning, connecting people to their environments, and empowering citizens to protect their health and communities. From students helping to identify species and habitat ranges in Maryland, to volunteers reporting sewage leaks in Baltimore, to people reporting the weather and changing seasons to better understand climate change, science is becoming more participatory and collaborative. Knowledge is power. Citizen science offers a path to strengthen scientific studies while empowering citizens with knowledge of scientific protocols and a deeper understanding of their environments and choices.

IMG_6515 by Shan Gordon.
See Salt?
William Bledsoe measures the salinity of water during the NOAA Citizen Science workshop in Oxford, Maryland. The workshop demonstrated how citizens can participate in a wide variety of scientific projects and activities. The workshop showed how students identify and monitor species in their school yards, how citizens monitor sewage spills in their communities and how we can all monitor weather and wildlife to understand climate change.
IMG_6505 by Shan Gordon.
Building a hydrometer from scratch. Workshop participants had to create a tool to measure water salinity using only common household items. Each team found a different solution to the problem.
IMG_6508 by Shan Gordon.
William Bledsoe works on the design of his salinity tester. Salt water is heavier than fresh water. Teams used that difference to design a tool that would determine whether a water sample was fresh or salt water. Could you design a salinity tester? What would you use? In this exercise, tasting was not allowed.
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David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore, discusses how volunteers collect evidence on sewage leaks in Baltimore City to help clean up city streams and the Baltimore Harbor.
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Map showing water testing sites by Blue Water Baltimore. The map shows recent tests of water quality in the Baltimore area.
The website is www.harboralert.org
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Health Lessons for Schools: How students can improve the health and learning conditions at their schools.

What would happen if students examined their school, homes and habits in the same way that doctors examined a patient?
Could they start to identify and change things in their school and home environments that hinder their health and learning?
Could they identify and change their own choices to improve their health and learning?
Could examining their school with health, building and energy professionals help them see potential career paths?

Yes.

We got a glimpse of how this could work last month when sixty students from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute examined the health and learning conditions in their school and its energy use over four class sessions. Students also learned about the 21st century school building project and architecture in another class session.

Benchmarking schools for health and learning conditions and calculating ROI for energy projects.

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A student takes temperature and humidity readings near a heating unit in his classroom. These readings were not part of the benchmarking protocol, but this innovation proved that the unit was working.
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Keith Madigan, a building engineer, shows students how to examine and compare energy data and how to use return on investment calculations to identify potential energy savings.

Students learned how to use tools and collect data to benchmark classrooms for lighting, natural light, temperature, humidity and Co2 levels from Keith Madigan, of Madigan and Associates. Madigan helped students understand how to benchmark their school using Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools and Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

How to Understand and Reduce the Health Effects of Asthma and Lead.

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Erin Quinn talks with students about asthma related ER visits in Baltimore. Baltimore has asthma rates near double the state average with the highest rates of asthma related ER visits in a band of low income neighborhoods

Rebecca Rehr from the Maryland Environmental Health Network talked with students about asthma and asthma triggers. Students learned about programs that provide renovations and trainings to reduce asthma triggers at homes and how green cleaning can reduce asthma attacks. Rehr, a graduate of Poly, talked about how a health presentation at Poly during her junior year sparked her interest in health professions. She told students that when she attended Poly, the water fountains were turned off because of concern about lead in the water, but students weren’t involved in learning around this issue.

After presenting the asthma statistics from the classes, a student noted that he was absent from school the week when the students filled out the forms—due to asthma. It was a good lesson about our need to collect data carefully and fully. The survey results are here Poly charts and data asthma and at the end of this article.

*Survey results from the classes are included at the end of this report. School-wide asthma statistics hadn’t been supplied to Baltimore City Health Department by the health official at the school. Baltimore City Public Schools  failed to submit plans for green cleaning as required by Maryland state law.

Learning to Improve the Health and Learning Conditions at Your School (and Home) Environments

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Don Brock from Health and Safety at City Schools
shows students how he investigates and solves health problems in school.
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Latanya Carter tells students how they can use integrated pest management to reduce pests at the school without using chemicals that are harmful to students.
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Robert Griffin from Health and Safety at Baltimore City Public Schools teaches students how to test the Co2 levels in classrooms. The ventilation system wasn’t operating in one of the rooms tested, minimal air flow in another. Opening windows can provide fresh air if the ventilation system is not functioning properly and help students get the fresh air they need to concentrate on their work.
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Can you trace the travel path of the mouse?
The oils and grease on the mouse stick to the things they rub against and collect dark particles. The conduit provides a handy path to travel. Mice and cockroaches can be asthma triggers. Sealing entryways to the school and keeping food stored properly can reduce pests and improve indoor air quality.

Creating Community Support for Schools, Creating Schools that Support Communities.

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Frank Patinella of the ACLU talks with students about the
21st Century School Building project and how it supports their rights to equal education. Richard Gwynallen of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council discussed how the council is working to grow community through the 21st Century Building project.

Understanding Architecture Inside and Out: The Systems and Heart of our Built Environments.

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Beverly Eisenberg talks with students about how architecture can protect, serve and inspire. Her lecture demonstrated the many interacting levels and systems involved in creating healthy and productive built environments.

Findings and items of interest:

• When we examined the energy and water use data for the Poly/Western campus (the schools share utilities and physical plant) we discovered that water use for Poly/Western in FY 2014 was $517,000 dollars–far higher than other high schools. The next highest water bill was $85,000 dollars. A look at historic data indicated that Poly/Western has had very high water use for several years. Energy and facilities staff has not yet indicated whether this water use has been reduced or whether there is an explanation on why it would be so high in comparison to other schools. Graphs showing the water use comparisons are found
here (Poly Water Use Charts) and at the end of this report.

• We found that the lecture room where we held most of the classes had no air flow through the ventilation/heating vents. When Co2 levels were tested in a nearby classroom, they were high despite the fact that the class had only been filled for a short time.

• Teachers and students didn’t seem to understand how to eliminate asthma triggers or that air vents and air handlers shouldn’t be blocked with classroom materials.

• The energy manager for the district insisted that boilers at the schools could not be switched from oil to gas. A staff member at the school insists that BGE certified that the boilers were dual fuel and able to use natural gas, a far cheaper fuel source at this time.

• There are a number of holes and penetrations in the building envelope ranging from ill fit window air conditioning units to unfitted ducting to doors that fail to close fully.

• Evidence of mold and water leaks in hallways and classrooms and peeling paint on the exterior.

• City Schools have not adopted green cleaning policies, procedures and purchasing despite Maryland state law.

• City Schools continues to have divided systems of reporting for information on asthma and lacks comprehensive reporting of asthma related absences.

• The square footage of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Western High School are listed differently from document to document.

Opportunities for learning activities at Poly/Western.

• Calculate the ROI of fuel change from oil to gas.

• Calculate the ROI of lighting change to LED

• Continued monitoring of temperature/humidity/air flow.

• Determine why lecture room has no air flow.

• Investigate why water use at Poly/Western is high.

• Help improve the collection and dissemination of asthma information.

• Offer eye chart exam for students to determine if they need correction to improve their ability to see and learn.

• Investigate the of costs and opportunities to provide internet/computer access to students at their homes.

• Monitor/identify and reduce pests at school with integrated pest management techniques.

• Enter energy use data into Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

• Calculate square footage for Poly and Poly/Western.

• Test for CO and mold.

• Test for lead in paint and in water supply.

• Monitor how chemicals and hazardous materials are used/stored at the school.

Students have an opportunity to use their learning to improve their health, learning and professional preparation.
Their work can provide schools with the knowledge and opportunities to lower their energy and maintenance costs while improving school attendance rates.
This is perfect STEM learning that combines health, learning, architecture, chemistry, biology, economics and social science in a hands on experiment to
create better outcomes for our students and our schools.

This work can help students meet the Core Curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards as they perform tests and create innovative engineering solutions in their immediate environment. School benchmarking can provide school facilities staff with ongoing information on the operations and maintenance of schools so they can better understand and respond to these issues before they become costly.

This learning project offers us a way to refocus and reconnect our schools to the health, learning and success of our students.
Today is the best day to start.

Graphs and data from student survey on asthma

Poly charts and data asthma

Graphs and data showing water use of Baltimore Polytechnic and Western compared to other City Schools.

Poly Water Use Charts

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Rethinking Learning: What lessons can after school programs teach our schools?

posted in: Blog, Multimedia, STEM, STEM learning | 0

During the recent Maryland Out of School Time conference I got a chance to observe lessons from a variety of after school programs. These programs involved the participants in genuine STEM inquiry in ways that are still rare in the schools that I visit.
Exercise and nutritional education that are missing from many schools are alive and well in a variety of after school programs. These programs are helping to keep our children moving, strong, focused and healthy. Remember when all our schools thought that was an important part of their day?
The programs I saw lead with the fun of learning and doing, but involve participants in mastering important concepts, knowledge and skills. Apparently, learning doesn’t have to be boring or disconnected from the world to be successful.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to cross-train formal and informal teachers?

IMG_6053 by Shan Gordon.

Can you solve a crime? Conference participants learn how to take and identify fingerprints in a demonstration on forensic science given by the University of Maryland.

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Examining a fingerprint in play dough for loops, arch, and worl.

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What are the properties of Newtonian and Non-Newtonian materials? In the Click 2 Science demonstration, participants were given a variety of materials to mix, stretch, bend, build, squish and take home to continue their exploration of how these materials could be used. Blowing a bubble was an innovation.

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An LED diode and a battery could provide a quick lesson in light, electricity and color at the Maker Lab.

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So what happens when you put a lighted LED set in motion with a small motor in the Maker Lab demonstration? Smiles and “a ha’s”

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Space birds from You Fly Now can teach aerodynamics, building skills, physics, and as shown here, decorating and self awareness skills.
Susan Demorra shows off “Sara Bella” a spacebird she decorated to demonstrate her artistic skills, style and her confident attitude. It doesn’t fly, but it doesn’t need to.

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How many Newton’s does it take to pull a weight up an incline? It’s not a nerd joke, it’s an exercise in physics and architecture from the Salvadori Center.