Things We Are Learning

2016/17 School Year

We investigated two schools as a pilot project just before the end of the term.  Applying lessons derived from that experience, during the 2017/18 school year we have begun to work actively with one entire county school system, and one entire city school system.  As these efforts have begun to sprout, we are learning a lot.  The purpose of this page is to post what we think are the valuable lessons we’ve gleaned, and enable others to learn from these efforts and give us feedback.   Please feel free to contact us if you want to suggest edits or contribute to the body of knowledge.

October 21, 2017

 It occurred to me that the project actually has two different (not mutually exclusive) goals.

  • To uncover environmental impediments to teaching and learning.

  • To educate students and faculty about what those impediments might be, and how to uncover their presence.

Therefore, the location of the pollution detection devices should not be determined by convenience, but rather by identifying areas most likely to contain the negative environmental factor.

October 23, 2017

Asking Buildings and Grounds staff to investigate the indoor environment places them at “moral hazard” – if they uncover an issue, it requires them to acknowledge that all is not well in their shop, risking unfavorable evaluations.  If an issue comes to light and they are urged not to disclose it (you can see some examples of that elsewhere on the website), they are now in a dilemma.   And if the discovery is made by a lower ranked individual, the challenge is even greater.  Accordingly, we asked students to do the investigative work, and report up through the educational chain of command, including the PTA.

However, this can be very inefficient because the students need access to building blue prints, energy bills, absentee rates by classroom, etc. – things professional employees can quickly access, but students may have more difficulty obtaining.

What then is the ideal project design?

January 30, 2018

During the fall of school year 2017-2018, instead of working through science teachers, I personally went to schools and briefed principals and system administrators about the project.  My presentation covered the various ways identifying issues could make the schools more effective, introduced them to the various tools (and their simplicity), and showed some of the data we found in other schools.  I expected them to be wary of the project.

I was wrong.

As soon as they realized that the indoor air quality could be improved by actions as simple as opening a window, or changing air conditioning filters, they were on board.

I began placing the equipment myself, visiting (by appointment) a school at the end of the school week to install, and the end of the next week to remove and re-install in a different classroom or school.

Once I began spending time in the schools myself, I realized that many buildings had more than one air conditioning system,  requiring more than one monitor.   It became clear that one wing might have optimal learning environments, while another  could be a mess.   This led us to expand our inventory of monitors.

We then developed a system of documenting monitor placement, to include building/wing, classroom, monitor serial number, date of placement, date of removal, and so forth.

Spring Semester 2018

We measured 133 classrooms in 29 schools.   The results were startling.  About 2/3 of all samples revealed CO2 levels sufficient to cost students one, and in many cases, two letter grades on annual standardized testing.

DATA SHARING:

An important lesson we learned is that we should have arrived at a “Data Sharing” agreement in advance of obtaining the data. Then the questions about who could share what data with whom would be clear. Lack of this kind of agreement caused discomfort in our relationship with our school partners.  The solution turns out to vary among school districts, and is still evolving.   When we get a workable standardized document, we intend to publish it.

PROTOCOL IN SHARING INFORMATION WITH TEACHERS:

We discovered that the teachers were very curious about what the monitors would reveal about their classrooms, but we were again stymied in sharing the results because of the lack of a data sharing agreement. This was particularly awkward if a monitor indicated a dramatic finding that we needed to corroborate with additional measurements.

FORMAT OF REPORT DELIVERY:

Another lesson learned is that we stored the reports in Google Drive, and shared the results by sharing the password.  Turns out a number of school personnel were not aware of, or comfortable accessing the reports that way, and asked for paper copies.   We prepared 3-ring binders and delivered them, which appeared to facilitate the desire and learning curve for internet access.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “HEALTH” ISSUE AND A “LEARNING” ISSUE:

If a survey uncovers high levels of mold or chemicals that could result in a student developing asthma, or if we find lead in the drinking water above legal standards, these deserve the label of a “health issue,” and can fairly be called “pollution.”   However, one of the most important lessons learned is that CO2 suppresses learning – and that is not a “health” issue, nor is CO2 considered a form of “pollution,” except at high levels.   Accordingly, we have to train ourselves and the school staff to be quite specific when talking about CO2 and refer to it as an opportunity to improve learning and standardized test scores, not as a form of pollution or potential health issue.