Students Test Their Schools

Students Test their Schools

Students at Patterson High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute are about to get new science and environmental health laboratories: their schools.

Johns Hopkins and Cool Green Schools are partnering on a community research grant to provide three classes of high school students with mentors, testing equipment, and funding so they can study and improve the health and learning conditions in their school environments. 

Students will work with Keith Madigan, a building engineer, to collect data on environmental conditions which affect their health and learning. They will monitor several conditions including: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, asthma triggers, VOC’s, 2.5ppm and Co2.

Two public health students from Johns Hopkins, Arshdeep Kaur and Madison Dutson, will introduce students to environmental health research, demonstrate an environmental health study, and mentor students.

The high school students will propose and conduct their own research projects.  The grant provides students with testing equipment, $4,000 dollars to study and improve their school environments, and $1,000 dollars to communicate their findings.

This student research project will offer innovative STEM learning opportunities for students, but school facility staff, researchers and educators may learn important lessons from this project as well.  

Stay tuned, we will post updates on this project as it evolves.

Shan

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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Lessons from Out of School

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Here is a peek at some moments from the 7th Annual MOST Conference.
This conference never fails to show me how these programs are bringing exciting and important learning to our children both in and out of schools. Great schools– and schools that want to be great–are wise to pursue partnerships with these programs. The less structured, more fun and experiential model of these programs can reach students which are overlooked or bored in classrooms.

Programs which range from nutrition to robotics to tennis offer students important information and mentors. These programs can fill gaps in the learning and health experiences which many schools no longer provide.

Think of three things that you learned as a child and that you love to do today. How many of those things were taught to you in a classroom and how many did you learn from a parent, friend, or out of school club or organization? Learning is everywhere. Our children will be more successful if we can connect them to their entire universe of learning and growth.

In three hours at the conference, I saw a guided conversation about racism, a session to promote STEM partnerships with the Applied Physics Laboratory, demonstrations of electricity, robotics and physics, a nutritional educational program, a presentation by students who created a world wide tutoring network, and a discussion on generational style differences.

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Ever thought about creating a world wide network of tutoring? You could ask these students how they did it.

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Remember recess? If your students don’t, talk with Playworks about how to get the most out of play at your school.

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If your students want to see how electricity and magnetism work, ask John Walstrum, PH.D at the National Electronics Museum for a demonstration. This piece shows how light striking solar panels can generate electricity to spin the motor and demonstrates polarity.

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Partnerships and collaborations are the best part of the conference. This session explored developing STEM partnerships with one of the premiere scientific laboratories in the world, the Applied Physics Lab.

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Want to see a room jammed with sweaty teenagers intent on only one thing? Go see a robotic competition hosted by Ed Mullin at the Baltimore Robotics Center at 1001 West Pratt Street 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.

Growing STEM in Baltimore

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As educators and foundations consider how to expand STEM learning in Baltimore, I’d like to offer a few recommendations.

First, define STEM broadly.
When we see STEM as a way of understanding and solving problems of all kinds, it becomes more than a club for kids who like robotics or computer coding.

STEM can help us do everything: it can help us cook better cupcakes, build better skateboards, improve our health, and design better bus routes. When we see that STEM is a tool kit to help us improve our world, it becomes available to everyone and applicable everywhere. Sure, STEM can stay in the science and computer labs, but what if we also let students in on the fact that its also valuable on the athletic field, the board room, the Mayor’s office and the hospital?

Second, use STEM to solve real problems.
I love Frisbee throwing robots as much as anyone, but does the world need another one?

When will we start creating STEM projects designed to solve real problems our students and our community are experiencing?

When are students going to help improve the bus service for their schools, test the water in their nearest stream or find ways to improve their health and learning?

Here are some quick ways to add STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore:

Water quality testing
Michel Anderson, an educator with Blue Water Baltimore is starting to train teachers to test water at their schools and local streams.
Funding to help transport students to their local streams could help students understand the water quality at their local streams. Putting these tests together in an online data base could help students (and everyone else) understand water quality in the Baltimore area watershed.

Benchmark health and learning at schools
Students can benchmark their health (asthma, vision and absenteeism) and the health of the school environment.
Using Tools for Schools from the EPA, students can identify existing asthma triggers like mold, chemicals and pests.
They can test the temperature, humidity, lighting and noise levels in their classrooms with the Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS). Entering their school energy use into Energy Star Portfolio Manager, enables students to compare the energy use at their school to similar schools and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school.

Engage students in the design of their schools and neighborhoods
The 21st Century School Building project, the program to construct or renovate Baltimore City Public Schools, is a perfect for STEM learning.
Students should be designing CAD drawings of potential school designs, talking with architects and construction managers, calculating construction costs and evaluating bus and walking routes.
But so far, students and their teachers are barely consulted in the design and citizen involvement process.
Schools could integrate this learning into their curriculum and engaging the citizen involvement processes with after school programs where parents, teachers, citizens and students work through these important decisions.

Revive Saturday Science
Don Thomas, an astronaut, ran a very successful Saturday morning program at Towson University where students could see and experience science programs which ranged from space exploration to crime scene investigations; from wildlife studies in the Amazon to pyrotechnics. This program was free and would fill an auditorium with students and parents interested in learning. After the program, students could sign up for a short lab experience.

Reviving the program (preferably with Thomas) would give Baltimore area students a great way to experience science.
If a local university isn’t willing to sponsor this program, perhaps it could be run as a collaborative with UMBC, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan and Towson taking turn presenting programs. This could be a great recruiting opportunity for these institutions as they show off their professors to their prospective students.

  • Designing a STEM ecosystem in Baltimore
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STEM by Design: Creating a Learning Ecosystem in Baltimore

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Facilitators pace the front of the room, poking their hands at graphs projected on the board. Huddled around workbench tables, a mix of school officials, college professors and informal educators stare between the board and the colorful pie charts, glowing like a dessert menu on their computer screens.

Let’s call it a STEM learning project for educators.

The project?

How to create a thriving ecosystem for STEM learning in Baltimore.

STEM design for Baltimore
Educators look through graphics outlining existing STEM programs in Baltimore.

This is a room of very smart people, working hard to create STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore. This is a good effort. But even with great cooks, it’s tough to make a great chocolate cake without chocolate.

So where are the business leaders, the medical and innovation companies, the construction trades and government agencies?

STEM design workshop
Educators discuss the problems with silos and lack of industry participation in STEM education in Baltimore.

And where are the kids and their parents?

Sure, this is a daytime event, so kids are in school, parents at work, but when and where do they have a turn to talk about the type of STEM education that they want in their communities?

One of the best points at the workshop is that STEM learning should be available to everyone. Think of it as a thousand points of learning.

But in at least one group, “equitable” was used to describe targeting STEM opportunities to those without resources.
The digital divide is big in Baltimore with students using state of the art computers and technology while other students may have to write and research their papers at home on their cell phones. In a computer coding program some students needed to be paid to learn computer coding or they would have to take a part time job to pay bills instead.

But in our attempt to provide equitable STEM education, will we create programs that are as divided by race, income and address as the rest of Baltimore?
STEM learning should be a banquet where we share the bounty of learning together.
We have an opportunity to start programs which include students, parents, citizens and tourists based simply on their curiosity and willingness to learn.  We can create a culture of learning which is pervasive and inclusive throughout Baltimore.

Designing a STEM ecosystem in Baltimore
Business partnerships need to be increased and strengthened to improve STEM learning in Baltimore.

The question shouldn’t be whether we improve STEM education to students in poverty or whether we create STEM opportunities for everyone. It is how soon and well we can do both.

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