Table of Contents

  • Free Our Climate Crisis Is an Education Crisis

    Edited By the editors of Rethinking Schools Why is there so little teaching or discussion of climate change in classrooms?
  • Cover Story
  • Free Got Coal?

    Teaching about the most dangerous rock in America

    By Bill Bigelow Students play a game promoted by the coal industrythen dig beneath the surface to look at the realities of mountaintop removal mining.
  • Coal at the Movies

    Classroom DVDs on coal and mountaintop removal mining

    By Compiled by Bill Bigelow Video resources for the classroom, plus links to activist websites.
  • Science for the People

    High school students investigate community air quality

    By Tony Marks-Block Ninth graders develop science literacy as they become neighborhood environmental experts and activists.
  • Features
  • Who’s Bashing Teachers and Public Schools and What Can We Do About It?

    By Stan Karp To build an effective movement against the top-down strategies that are ripping public education apart, we need to take a closer look at who wants reform and why.
  • Keepers of the Second Throat

    By Patricia Smith When Chicago stole my mothers tongue, it also stole all her yesterdays. A poets lyric plea for teachers to nurture their students voices and stories.
  • Talking Back to the World

    Turning poetic lines into visual poetry

    By Renee Watson Student poetry about what raised me is woven into graphic art.
  • Bad Signs

    By Alfie Kohn What are the real messages in the inspirational slogans covering classroom walls? Plus some better alternatives.
  • Fuzzy Math

    A meditation on test scoring

    By Meredith Jacks A middle school writing teacher reflects on a day spent scoring districtwide math tests.
  • Support That Can’t Support

    My induction program experience

    By Elaine Engel Are peer mentoring programs bowing to the pressure to teach to the test?
  • Departments Free
  • Action News • Wisconsin Uprising

  • Good Stuff

    By Herb Kohl
  • First and Second title both empty, Update me!

  • Scholastic Inc

    By Bill Bigelow

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Science for the People

High school students investigate community air quality
Science for the People

"WowTony, look at those numbers! Theyre like double the amount from before, a student in our after-school science research program exclaimed after a large train passed by. The students were using a machine to count particulate matter (PM), microscopic particles primarily created through the combustion of various fossil fuels, along our air quality transect on Fruitvale Ave. in Oakland, Calif. What was once commonplacea train speeding through the neighborhoodbecame a catalyst for students to understand the connections between energy and air quality.

Over a year, a small group of high school students risked their afternoons and summer to participate in a science program that was, as Maraya put it, much different from science class. This was one of several after-school programs in Oakland and Richmond that I was leading as an instructor with the East Bay Academy for Young Scientists (EBAYS), a National Science Foundation project coordinated by the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. Students in our projects carry out local, community-based research. Given the proximity of many schools to freeways, train tracks, and industry, we decided to focus on energy production and its relation to air quality as a way to help develop science literacy and environmental justice leaders.

With the help of the high school staff, I recruited a group of 9th graders. Many of them were struggling academically and wanted the extra science credit offered for my after-school project. Although we explained that theyd be researching air quality, students later told me that they did not know what they were getting into and joined primarily for the extra credit.

When we started, environmental (in)justice was not a part of their vocabulary, but it was a part of their experience. My challenge was to help students connect their visceral understanding of racial injustice to a scientific process that could be used to develop deeper knowledge about community health and air pollution. If they could collect and analyze data on air pollutants, and then communicate their findings and the implications to their community and others, this would be one step toward taking ownership of their environment and their communitys education.

Test Tube Rockets

Before I introduced my students to air quality and PM data collection, I led them through some energy-related activities structured to help them develop research skills and an understanding of the root problems underlying air quality. Unlike many science courses, where memorizing facts is the norm, our curriculum emphasizes the development of new knowledge through the manipulation and testing of various systems.

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