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.

How can Students Learn Science Without Doing Science?

posted in: Blog, STEM | 0

The experiment we are running in most science classes is whether students can learn science without doing science.

And this experiment is failing our students.

Yes, you can get students to memorize the periodic table and fill in the bubbles on biology tests by studying books and doing worksheets. If you push them hard, you might get a slight bump over last years test.

But how does that teach students to observe, form a testable hypothesis, and then design and perform an experiment to discover a solution to a problem?
It doesn’t.  

No coach would train their teams by giving up all their practice sessions so their players could read books about the Superbowl or fill out worksheets about the NBA. They know that practice is key to performance. It is how we learn.

Real science is about learning to observe, think, and innovate across a variety of disciplines. It is about curiosity and solving things. This is what the Next Generation Science Standards are expecting students do.
But like football, it takes practice to learn these key skills. And our students are not getting much practice.

Of course, students should read and learn about the scientific discoveries others have made. But they should also conduct their own experiments and make their own discoveries. This is the spark, soul, and hope of science.
This is where eyes light up and the Ah Ha moments start dancing about. Real science connects students to the joy and challenge of discovery. It teaches students that they are powerful, that they can create and improve.

Textbook science is boring and it alienates students.  So it’s no surprise that most students in Baltimore City Public Schools consistently score very poorly on math and science tests. This effectively excludes them from rewarding STEM careers in the center of a STEM economy.

We have to break free of our dependence on text book science if our students are going to have a chance to participate in STEM fields and careers. We have nothing to lose and a world of inventions and innovations to win.  Let’s start practicing.

Science out of the Silos

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

social working fin by .

 

 

 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.

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

  • IMG_6861 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6869 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6847 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6803-2 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6812 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6813 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6814 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6829 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6845 by Shan Gordon.
  • IMG_6856 by Shan Gordon.

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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IMG_6813 by Shan Gordon.
Christina Romano, Education and Outreach Specialist, demonstrates how to insert samples for testing.
IMG_6803-2 by Shan Gordon.
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.
IMG_6829 by Shan Gordon.
Christina Romano, education and outreach specialist, demonstrates how to conduct the experiment.
IMG_6869 by Shan Gordon.
A visit with the Diamond Backed Terrapins outside the lab is a great way to end the experience.