After a successful trial at Corpus Christi school, a version of the Walk the Talk 'Citizen Science' program was delivered to sixty year 6 pupils (aged 10-11) at Jubilee school. This differed from the Corpus Christi program in a number of ways. The program was delivered to all pupils, as part of their regular classroom work (rather than as an extra session which only selected pupils attended) and teaching sessions were held on four successive days, rather than being spread out over a series of weeks. These sessions were also slightly shorter – lasting for an hour, rather than for 90 minutes. The program was delivered during Walk to School Week, which was the final week of Summer 1, just before the half-term break and immediately after the year 6 SATs tests.
All parents were invited to attend an information session held after school, and those who attended were given air quality sensor eggs (www.airqualityegg.com) and Jawbone activity trackers to use at home. Twelve sets of equipment were given out in total, across both classes.
Learning program – structure and content
The learning program centred around the story of a mysterious professor, needing to replace a team of scientists who had disappeared under unknown circumstances. This story unfolded through a game mechanic, where children completed a series of learning tasks, each of which 'unlocked' the next piece of the story. Pupils first needed to demonstrate they had the right qualities to become citizen scientists; the tasks involved in proving this introduced he concept of clean/dirty air, and links between cars and air pollution. It was then revealed that the missing scientists had gone on strike because they were unhappy about two things: the air quality around their offices (in some unspecified location within Tulse Hill) and the unrealistic walking targets the professor had set for them. Children were tasked with solving both problems by finding out more about air quality in Tulse Hill, identifying factors which impact on this and predicting where it would be better /worse, finding out how much walking average adults (their parents and carers) do, and coming up with ways to encourage them to walk more. Eventually they used this knowledge to predict the location of the scientists' offices, and suggest a better (cleaner-air) location. They also used their knowledge to plan 'clean air routes' to school, to tie in with Walk to School Week.
Work at the school comprised of 4 teaching sessions with each class (8 sessions in total), each lasting approximately one hour. These were held in the mornings with class teachers supervising on three of the days, and a regular supply teacher supervising on the fourth.
Summary of teaching sessions
Children analysed scientist's notebooks and identified the (deliberate) examples of bad science; they then wrote 'citizen science' pledges which described key 'working scientifically' behaviours. Following this, they were shown a cartoon depicting two scientists arguing about the idea of 'invisible dirt', and asked to consider whether it was possible that there are pollutants in the air which we are unable to see. They read a fact sheet to help hem form an opinion about which scientist was right, and presented their arguments.
Children played a 'clean air bingo' game to play with their families to help reinforce key concepts and vocabulary. They then moved to the computer suite where they looked at the map at airqualityegg.com and compared data from eggs in different locations, searching for the highest and lowest readings.
This session focused largely on walking data; one class took part in an activity designed to help them consider whether distance or step counts were the fairest measure; however they struggled with this and the activity was not included in the second teaching session. Children analysed a week's worth of data together, discussing patterns, posing questions, and also looked at the data provided by community members. They brainstormed ideas about benefits of walking (including links to air quality and potential to reduce pollution), identified potential barriers and suggested solutions to these and thought about where and when their parents could walk more.
Pupils worked in the computer suite where they looked at a map of the local area, marked in physical and human features which could have an impact on air quality (bus stops, main roads, etc.) and added in air quality readings from the local sensors. They used this information to predict areas of better / worse air quality, and justify this, and also marked a clean air route to school on the map.
Best practice findings and lessons learned
The program was designed to develop several outcomes; findings and lessons learned in relation to each of these are outlined below.
Children have increased awareness / knowledge of air quality and factors which impact this, and of the health benefits of walking.
Pupils responded to the Professor's story, and engaged in some tasks related to this which required them to develop and apply their knowledge in relation to both air quality and walking. More time was spent on this in class than at Corpus Christi with activities being split across the first two teaching sessions, rather than just one. The 'clean air bingo' game worked as a good introduction to the second session, helping to reinforce key vocabulary and concepts.
Parents and children are using the eggs to monitor air quality near home; contributing data to the AQE website and are able to access / interpret this data.
Pupils were able to access air quality data online, observe similarities and differences and form theories about factors which might affect this. This was done in a computer suite with pupils largely working in pairs on machines. There was some discussion about eggs which were in their own homes; a few pupils voiced disappointment that they hadn't been able to have an egg; some asked if there would be another chance for a parent meeting. This did not disrupt their learning; they seemed interested in data from all eggs in the local area (including those which had been part of the Corpus Christi trial) and also in the data from other parts of the world. In the final teaching session they were able to work individually to access, record and compare data from the sensors in the local area and use this information to test their predictions about air quality in different locations.
Parents have taken part in a friendly competition (devised by children), encouraging them to walk more, and know how to pair up their tracker with someone to continue to compete/compare with others if they want to.
This element of the learning program was not introduced as only a small number of trackers had been given out, and only one of these went to each family. Children who had trackers at home were given recording sheets and asked to collect their parents' step data; only a small number of them remembered to do this and bring the information back to school. Pupils did, however, examine two sets of data during lessons; a graph of one week's walking activity for a single person, and a table showing data which had been contributed by the local community members, who had been given trackers at the community event and asked to record their walking activity on an online form.
Parents and children have had a conversation about where/when/how often parents are walking and ways of increasing this
Parents have made some sort of pledge to change behaviour (in regards to walking, or clean air, or both.....) and there is a public display of these pledges, either in school, or to a wider audience on public screens
Again, the fact that only a small number of pupils took trackers home made this element of the program more difficult. Due to the timing of the teaching sessions (in the last week of term), a final parent session was not held. Pupils did, though, take part in conversations in class about ways of encouraging parents to walk more.
Parents/pupils have some ideas for further investigations about air quality and other ways of exploring this.
A resource sheet for parents will be sent to the schools as a follow-up, giving suggestions for further investigations which could be carried out with their air quality sensors, information about other ways of observing air quality (eg. using surface wipes to compare levels of particulate matter) and useful websites for further information.
With these children, short bursts of varied activities were needed to keep them engaged. The learning program lent itself well to this, as activities and games could be slotted in and out. Pupils were quite vocal about which activities they found less interesting, and by working across two classes each day, it was possible to act immediately on this feedback and modify the second session based on feedback from the first.
Getting children to return their parents' activity data was a problem in both schools; it might be worth considering an online collection method similar to the one used by community members in the future. If this is done, the format currently being used (an online survey monkey form) will need to be reviewed as compiling the data from these forms was a manual, time-consuming process.
Although the timing of these sessions worked well for the school, it was a difficult time to be working with year 6 pupils, as they had just finished a week of SATs testing. Overall, the time-frame of the project meant engaging with and working in schools during the two terms (Spring 2 and Summer 1) where schools are most likely to be focused on, and thus quite distracted by SATs, which added an extra level of challenge. This is something worth keeping in mind in the future.
There is no provision in the program, as it currently stands, for pupils to produce something concrete to show the outcome of their work. This is partly because of the short nature of the program – there is a lot of content to cover in only four sessions. The school's deputy head asked about this; and on reflection, this could have been included, particularly in light of the fact that the parent session was modified at Corpus Christi, and not held at Jubilee. As originally planned, these sessions would have resulted in a display of the parents' pledges. Several activities Pupils could 'publish' a version of their final maps, write a letter to the professor explaining their findings, produce a school assembly, or make persuasive posters, videos or presentations encouraging people to walk more. More time would be needed to feasibly add any of these activities into the program; alternatively they could be suggested to teachers as follow-up activities.