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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.