Urban Citizen Science Programme : Introduction

Watch how the Citizen Science Programme began:

The Urban Citizen Science Programme (UCS) designed and deployed by Loop Labs Ltd in partnership with Lambeth and Tower Hamlets Councils. Designed as a prototype with an intention to refine, develop and scale across London and other urban cities the programme objective is to catalyse conversations within the community about air quality that will lead to long term and durable behaviour change such as an increase in walking and reduced car use for short journeys.

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Marner Primary School - A Case Study

 

Marner Primary School - Citizen Science Programme: In Review

Context

Loop Labs initiated the programme with the SHINE school pupils and a group of their parents on November 7th 2015. We had presentations from Nicky Gavron, Sabina Begum, Dr. Awesome and here the Citizen Science Programme was introduced to the audience. We spoke with many of the parents after the presentations. Loop Labs distributed lab coats to all the children and gave activity trackers to the parents. Parents filled out surveys, giving us insight into their awareness of Air Quality. Despite the school being ringed by busy roads and a dual carriageway, many of the parents did not consider the Air Quality to be an issue in the area.

Pupils

The lessons were held at the Saturday SHINE school and delivered to 60 children (between the ages of 7-11 years old) in 3 separate groups, for 45mins - 1hour. The lessons followed a more informal structure which allowed the exploration of issues that were raised in class. This led to a relaxed environment in which the children felt free to vocalise their thoughts.

Lesson 1

Led a discussion about how we make sense of the world around us and the role of science in human progress. The children named famous scientists they were aware of e.g. Einstein, Bell etc and we talked about the role of scientists and what they ‘do’. (The pupils were very keen to become future scientists and make new discoveries and innovations.)

They reacted positively to the letter from the scientist and were eager to highlight scientific ‘errors' found in the notebook and made a list of correct scientific methods. They talked about different types of pollution and the children were shown a cartoon to debate whether there was such a thing as ‘invisible dirt’ and we identified key pollutants in the air.

Lesson 2

Explored air pollution via a series of short video clips from the londonair.org.uk:

  • What is air pollution?
  • History of air pollution in London
  • Should I worry about air pollution in London?
  • How air pollution is measured in London

The children were asked to make notes on key points from the video and write down words they didn’t understand. The keywords were written on a whiteboard e.g. particulates and the pupils worked in small groups to research the terms using iPads and then made a poster of their findings.

We discussed the potential uses of the internet i.e. open access to knowledge and how to conduct research. I gave an explanation of the ‘Internet of Things’ with regards to how the air quality eggs and the activity trackers work.

The children were informed that they can check the air quality in their borough via londonair.org.uk.

Lesson 3

The children were given a fact sheet about air pollution and asked to complete a matching word definition sheet (to follow up on learning from the previous week). A discussion was held about how air pollution affects us e.g. health in terms of asthma. One pupil gave a demonstration of how his asthma pump was used and explained that his condition worsened on the main roads during heavy traffic hours.

The children were generally passionate about the topic and very vocal. They questioned why more public debate was not being held on the issue and wanted more government action. They visualised future solutions ranging from replacing cars with trains, using cleaner energy and the use of hover boards as a means of transport.

Lesson 4

The lesson focused on the benefits of walking, mapping where the children live and exploring the green spaces they utilise.

We watched a video clip on London air pollution: which mode of transport has the highest exposure? The pupils were asked to predict which mode of transport would be best to avoid air pollution and then we discussed why walking along quiet roads was the most sensible option. We also watched a short video clip on the benefits of walking, which suggested a healthy number of steps to take per day i.e.10000.

Next, the children predicted how many steps it would take to walk to the end of the classroom and back (due to time limitations we were unable to arrange a longer walk) and then a pupil was selected to demonstrate. They then estimated how many steps they take on their way to schooland pinpointed their address on a map of the area.

The remainder of the lesson was spent exploring walkit.com on iPads and the pupils were shown how to search for the least polluted walk to school and other walks they might take.They were also able to check the precise distance/how many steps they took to and from school everyday.

We also talked about the local green spaces that the children use for play and which parks they are aware of.  We showed them the map of parks and open spaces on the Tower Hamlets website to inform them of what is available in their area.

The following findings were made:

  • Most of the children live within 5-10 minutes from the school.
  • The majority of the children were only using the small green spaces near their flats to play and
  • most added that no balls games were allowed.
  • The most common park mentioned was Prospect Park and none of the children mentioned Three Mills Green as a top of mind response. Only a few said that they played there in the summer.
  •  A large number of the children said they were not allowed to go out to play and some said they only played out once or twice a month.

Overall

There was evidence that many of the children were actively engaged with the topic. One pupil brought in a poster that she had made at home (cover picture) and a few others reported news stories that they had followed the previous week regarding the high levels of air pollution in China. That said, Marner is a challenging school. There are limited clean air routes to school, parks and open spaces, therefore we had to adapt our model to best fit with this particular site/location. The initial surveys showed the parents had limited understanding of Air Quality.

With the activity trackers, they are paired with a smart phone app. They were not properly utilised by the Marner parents, as smartphone ownership rates and data plans aren’t as common as they are in other communities we’ve worked with. The toolkits we have commonly used within other ethnically diverse communities, haven’t worked here.

Wider Community

A few home visits were carried out due to the technical difficulties arising from the use of the air quality eggs. This gave us the opportunity to speak to the families. None of the parents had cars. They all relied on public transport and said that they tried to walk as much as possible.

The parents were not aware of any open green spaces nearby and said the children played in the small communal area outside the flats. One of the parents said that she would occasionally takeher daughter to Victoria Park but only in the summer.

Another parent stated that there was no alternative school route for her to take other than via the A12 (Blackwell Tunnel Approach) and raised her concern about the level of air and noise pollution they were exposed to everyday.

Other Issues

Tower Hamlets council conducted a survey which revealed the average roam areas for mothers from the Marner School was just  500m.

The assistant Head Teacher at Marner School, Carol Doherty, expressed her concern over the local cement mixing factory (Jim’ll Mix It on Empson Street) and how it contributes to particulates in the air.

On the topic of local green areas she mentioned that although Tower Hamlets Cemetery park was nearby the majority of families would not utilise the space due to cultural beliefs held against playing in graveyards.

Jubilee Primary School Case Study - June 2015

Introduction

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

Session 1:

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.

Session 2:

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.

Session 3:

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.

Session 4:

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.

General comments

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.

 

 

 

Corpus Christi Primary School Case Study - March 2015

Introduction

The education component of this phase of the Walk the Talk project involved designing and trialling a 'Citizen Science' program for pupils and their parents. An offer was made to a number of schools (including Hillmead, Fenstanton, St John's, Corpus Christi) and the trial was run at Corpus Christi school, with the support of teacher Hayley Hughes.  Fifteen pupils were involved; these were a mix of year 5 and 6 pupils (aged 9-11 years old.) Approximately half of the pupils came from the school's 'Green Team' and the other half were pupils identified as having an particular interest in, or aptitude for, science.

Pupils were given air quality sensor eggs (www.airqualityegg.com) and Jawbone activity trackers for their parents/carers to use.  'Getting started' guides were produced for both devices and a support helpline email and phone) was set up and monitored.

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.

Work at the school comprised of 4 teaching sessions ( 3x90 minute sessions and 1x60 minute session) over a four week period. In addition there were three parent information sessions held (one before school and two after school sessions for those who had been able to attend) and a final 'celebration' meeting early the following term, attended by approximately a third of the families involved.   There were two further visits to the school to help a group of children prepare their presentations for the community event.

Lesson plans and a set of resources (scientist's notebooks, letters from the professor, concept cartoon, recording sheets, a 'clean-air bingo' game) were produced for use within these sessions; one additional resource used  came from the CA4S toolkit (www.lsx.org.uk – air pollution lesson sheet 1).  A 'next steps' handout was prepared for parents and distributed at the final parent session, and sent home to parents who had been unable to attend.

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 were keen to engage in tasks related to this which required them to develop and apply their knowledge in relation to both air quality and walking.  They were keen to know more, particularly in terms of air quality and factors which cause it.  This was dealt with fairly broadly in the first teaching session but there was not time to go back and explore aspects in greater depth; this is perhaps something to consider for further sessions, or as a potential homework task.  Children who presented at the community meeting spoke passionately about both air quality (causes of pollution and associated problems) and the benefits and importance of walking.

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.

In class, pupils showed an interest in the air quality data from their own sensors, but were also particularly interested in data from other parts of the world.  They were able to access this data online, observe differences and form theories about factors which might affect this. Technical difficulties at the school meant that they did this as a whole group, rather than individually, as planned. In the final teaching session they were able to work individually 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.

Pupils were very keen to investigate their parents' walking behaviour. However, although all families took home two trackers, for the majority of children only one of these was being used regularly enough for children to collect data. Children also needed more guidance than anticipated in terms of collecting this data; the task initially set was a very open one, and asked children to come  up with their own way to record this data and bring it back to school. There was more success the following week when they were provided with a recording sheet to complete, but the timing for this meant that the 'competition' element which was planned did not occur. However, anecdotal evidence from the children suggests that where two adults in the family were using the trackers, a spirit of competition did seem to develop  naturally. A further complication, which had not been anticipated, was that a number of parents were keen cyclists and used this as their preferred mode of transport.

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

The initial plan was for the final parent session to address both of these outcomes, with children examining data and forming questions in the final teaching session. A combination of factors made this difficult – the final teaching session was shortened and the parent meeting was not able to be held until early in the following term.  However, the majority of children collected walking data from at least one parent and brought this into school, and anecdotal evidence from both the children  and the parents who attended the final parent meeting suggests that these conversations were happening at home.

Parents/pupils have some ideas for further investigations about air quality and other ways of exploring this.

Parents were provided with a resource sheet at the final parent session which gave 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.

Future plans

A second trial of the program is planned for Jubilee Primary School, with two year classes (approximately 60 pupils.)  This is an opportunity to make two key changes: compressing the four sessions into a single week, and limiting the amount of equipment used.  Fifteen air quality sensors will be deployed, and up to 40 activity trackers.  The intention is to see what differences there, and whether access to secondary data makes a difference.  This trial will be held during Walk to School week, and the intention is to incorporate the idea of 'clean-air routes' to school into the work being done.

Other schools we would like to work with include Fenstanton, Holy Trinity, Hilmead and St John's.  We are also keen to see how the program works in a more informal learning environment, such as an after school club or school holiday program and have had discussions representatives from the St Matthews Estate TRA in this regard.

As further schools and the local community come on board, the amount of public data which is availble will increase. One avenue for further exploration is to see how succesful the program is when delivered without any equipment being issued, and with pupils simply accessing this data.

Appendix 1 - Summary of teaching sessions

Session 1:

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, and made posters to illustrate these Examples included : 'use scientific language; be curious and ask questions; always make your tests fair.'   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 sciencist was right, and presented their arguments.  Children took home a 'clean air bingo' game to play with their families to help reinforce key concepts and vocabulary.

Session 2:

Children looked at the map at airqualityegg.com and identified their own sensors. They compared data from eggs in different locations, searched for the highest / lowest readings, and discussed the reliability of this data.  There was also a computing element to this session; children discussed the role of the internet  and then acted out the 'journey' the data made  from their eggs at home to the screens they were viewing at school.  A homework task to collect parents' walking data was set.

Session 3:

This session focused largely on walking data; children analysed a week's worth of data together, discussing patterns, posing questions, and considering whether distance or step counts were the fairest measure. 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. Competition ideas were discussed and pupils were given a recording sheet to support their collection of walking data at home.

Session 4:

This was a shorter session than originally planned; after a brief discussion about the walking data children had returned, pupils 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.