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.

  • chairs-classroom-college-289740 by .

Oh, They Breathe? Connecting Schools to Student Needs.

posted in: Healthy Schools | 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.