Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Generation Next: Air Pollution Module

Generation Next: Air Pollution Module
June – September 2009

Sackhumvit Trust organized a series of classroom activities exploring the topic of air pollution in the context of the 9th science syllabus of state board schools in Bangalore. Sackhumvit Trust partnered with Dream School Foundation to organize this program at local government schools, and DSF's education and development centres in Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar. The first module covered as part of this project was air pollution.

The module started off with students exploring what is air by testing its properties of weight, pressure, volume, and temperature. Students conducted various experiments such as comparing the weight of two different sized balloons; testing whether water spills out of a plastic cup covered with a piece of paper and flipped upside down; building their own barometer to measure air pressure; and observing the change in shape of a plastic bottle that is heated up with hot water and then cooled over time. These experiments, although simple, were new to most of our students and effectively related to the states of matter unit covered in their science textbooks.

The module then went on toexplore the relationship between air temperature, pressure, and weather. Students learned the meaning of cold and hot weather fronts and how the interaction of hot and cold air masses create certain weather patterns such as rain, fog, and thunder storms. Students also learned that wind is a consequence of hot air rising to be replaced by cooler and denser air. This was followed by an examination of land and sea breezes, for which the Indian Monsoon was used a specific example. As a fun activity, students built their own anemometers to measure the speed of wind, which required them to apply basic mathematics along with creative engineering skills. Students also constructed a wind vane where they measured the direction in which the wind blows.

The module then transitioned to explore air pollution. Students learned about various types of air pollution including respiratory particulate matter, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and ozone depleting substances. Students learned of natural and man-made sources for these pollutants, and their impact on human health and the environment; i.e. smog, acid rain, global warming, ozone layer depletion, etc. An interesting case-study concerning the parthenium weed and its association with severe airborne allergies in Bangalore was also reviewed.

Several activities were organized to engage students on the topic of air pollution. Students participated in a walkabout after which they produced an air pollution map demonstrating sources and sinks for air pollution in their community. It was encouraging to see how involved students were in the walkabout, many of whom freely asked auto drivers, roadside vendors, and pedestrians for their opinion on the Bangalore’s air quality.

To link this section of the module to the science studies of students, several sessions were organized to review the periodic table – the history of its development, and how to read the table to infer properties of an element and draw atomic structures. Students were then taught how to draw molecular structures for the various air pollutants they were learning about.

Sackhumvit Trust also organized for Mrs. Shalini from CLEAN-India (Development Alternatives), to conduct an air pollution experiment in which students measured the levels of respiratory particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides in their neighborhoods. Students were excited to conduct a science experiment involving a lab equipment and chemicals. This activity also required students to learn the concepts of hypothesis, data collection and analysis, and conclusion – the fundamental building blocks of science reporting. Students were encouraged to learn that the level of air pollutants in their neighborhood was below the danger thresholds as indicated by CLEAN-India.

To help students understand the process by which air pollutants can cause dangerous health affects, our volunteer teachers reviewed the human respiratory system and the process of gaseous exchange in line with their biology studies. Students were given the opportunity to build their own version of the respiratory system using clay, an activity that strongly appealed to our artistic students.

Lastly, to touch upon the complexities of global warming and how it affects the well-being of children, our volunteer teachers organized an activity where students built a collage of articles from their local newspaper discussing climate change. Students were surprised that the majority of articles discussed the acute drought in Karnataka due to the delayed monsoons, followed by severe flooding in northern Karnataka during recent months. Other interesting articles concerned India’s discovery of water on the moon; the use of rain water harvesting facilities by Karnataka’s Chief Minister, Yeddyurappa; and an opinion editorial debating the significance of climate change.

Students also reviewed a fact sheet prepared by UNEP TUNZA detailing how climate change affects children all over the world. Most students were shocked to learn the dramatic number of children worldwide who suffer from displacement, malnourishment, lack of clean water, and acute airborne allergies such as asthma.

The air pollution module concluded with an examination of indoor air pollution and the benefits of indoor plants. Students reviewed the sources, chemical properties, and health affects of formaldehyde, benzene, and other pollutants commonly found in our homes. They also learned about various indoor plants indigenous to Bangalore and how they can help improve the quality of air.

Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank Dream School Foundation for enabling us to work with students from its various partner government schools. We would also like to thank Environment Support Group for guiding us in developing hands-on activities for our science education program.

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