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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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
Creating Community Support for Schools, Creating Schools that Support Communities.
Understanding Architecture Inside and Out: The Systems and Heart of our 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.
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?
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.
Examining a fingerprint in play dough for loops, arch, and worl.
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.
An LED diode and a battery could provide a quick lesson in light, electricity and color at the Maker Lab.
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”
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.
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.
Stephen Ritz introduces himself as the “Chief Eternal Optimist of Bronx County”.
It’s a place that needs optimism.
The Bronx is a tough neighborhood with high unemployment and the rumble of food insecurity. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reported in December, 2013 that nearly 49 percent of Bronx children lived in a household with an inconsistent food supply.
Equally alarming, children in the Bronx have little access to fresh food, often eating foods high in sugar and fat, but low in nutritional value.
“We have some of the greatest rates of juvenile diabetes and juvenile obesity in the nation,” Ritz says. “And we can change that. We absolutely have the power to change schools in this generation.”
So where does Ritz get this optimism?
He grows it—with his students.
“The excitement and joy that these little kids feel putting a seed in the ground and watching it blossom—OMG! “ Ritz exclaims. “It’s game changing! It’s empowering!”
“When they know that they can grow their own, they really start changing the way they see their relationship to the world and their place in it,” Ritz says. “They are growing, the plants are growing, and they are responsible for it.”
Vegetables are sprouting in trays, on walls, and from the sides of tower gardens. This growing infuses the classroom—and their lessons. Students learn the science of nutrition and growth. Names of vegetables teach consonant blends. The price of supplies and earnings help students learn math. Growing puts green in their wallets and trains students for jobs and business. With their learning aligned with their lives, students can create, taste and count real reasons to come to school. School attendance grew from 40 percent to 93 percent. Students are heading to college, not jail.
“For so many, food is the problem. Yet for all of us, food is a solution,” Ritz says.
In places adults didn’t think could grow plants, Ritz and his students are growing an answer to poor prenatal nutrition, the cause of 70 percent of learning disabilities. They are growing an answer to dropping out, unemployment and powerlessness with relevant learning, work and constant encouragement. “We are Ameri-CANS!, not Ameri-can’ts, “ Ritz proclaims.
“I’m not a farmer,” Ritz says, “But I’m planting. I’m planting seeds.”
Ritz has planted success in his students with this approach. But there is only one Stephen Ritz. How do we grow crops of transformative teachers and learning projects?