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.
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.
Study a package of hamburger as long as you like, you will never understand a cow.
So why do we keep dividing learning into bite sized bits, cut out of context, meaning and purpose?
Can memorizing artificial labels on a lifeless, two dimensional chart help us understand or improve the cow?
Or does this simply enable us to divide and label our students in the same way we divided and labeled the cow?
Imagine instead that we challenged students to create a better cow. This forces them to understand “cow” and “better” in all dimensions.
What environments and foods strengthen cows? How do we balance our needs and responsibilities to cows? What diets and choices can keep us healthy?
STEM and project based learning reconstitutes learning, naturally combining and testing our understanding of all subjects.
This learning is rich and alive. It challenges students to understand interacting systems as they search for solutions.
This is how we have always produced stronger cows and more milk.
It can also produce innovative students ready to solve problems in their world.
If you are brave enough to admit that you don’t have every answer; that there can be more than one solution, embark at once upon this learning adventure with your students. You will be amazed at how some of them will spark alive when they are offered a chance to touch and transform their world.
The next time you are at a stadium filled with cheering fans, imagine if our teams ran onto the field not to knock down their opponents, but to lift up their community.
What if they came to tackle social problems, not quarterbacks?
Would we cheer and wave in unison if our team helped our homeless get to home base or renovated a rec center so more children could play?
Would we wear shirts emblazoned with the names of social entrepreneurs, inventors and volunteers? Would call-in shows be jammed with fans celebrating an unbroken record of social reforms?
You can keep your season tickets to our big sporting events.
But if you want to see some real hero’s compete on behalf of your city, you might want to order your tickets to the next High School Innovation Challenge.
As with most things that are new, the first year of this event was small. A few supporters gathered around small teams who had come to offer ideas and work to help others.
No cheerleaders, no screaming fans, no recruiters, no million dollar contracts. Just high school students eager to make their city better.
The Warnock foundation offered prizes to help make these dreams come true. But more importantly, they honored the voice and ideas of these students who are eager to create a better future for
A scientist points to a future in bio fuels at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The pilot project is testing to see if algae could be used as a fuel.
A dead crab lays baking in the sun after an algae bloom depleted oxygen in the Baltimore Inner Harbor killing fish and crabs and creating a gagging stench that drove tourists from Inner Harbor businesses and attractions.
Seeds of Hope?
A staff member with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation points to a Spat, or baby oyster growing on a shell which will be grown in the
Inner Harbor. Oysters act as filters and if the oysters can survive in the challenging conditions of the Inner Harbor, they could help clean the water.