Category: K-12

Cicadas during COVID-19 are a ‘golden moment’ for science education

Read the full story at Fast Company.

The Brood X cicadas that have swarmed parts of the United States in recent weeks emerge every 17 years, which scientists believe could be a survival tactic that helps them avoid matching their predators’ life cycles.

For science teachers around the country who live and work in the regions where the periodical cicadas have come out this year, the timing is perfect: After a year of virtual lessons, flagging student engagement, and ongoing stress, a real-life science lesson has crawled out of the ground—and started singing.

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

The mission of the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science at the University at Buffalo is to promote the development and dissemination of materials and practices for case teaching in the sciences. Their website provides access to an award-winning collection of peer-reviewed case studies.

Access to answer keys and teaching notes requires an approved account and annual paid subscription fee. Access to the cases is free. All new subscribers must first be verified to make sure that they are teachers affiliated with an educational institution.

Webinar: Becoming ESPC-Ready

Jun 15, 2021 2-3 pm CDT
Register here.

Join this webinar to better understand the basics of Energy Savings Performance Contracting, or ESPC. This foundational training covers how state and local governments can facilitate energy efficiency investments through ESPC, and how facility managers can use ESPC to enhance their facility’s energy performance. Whether you are a stakeholder from a state or local government, university, K-12 school, or hospital, this webinar can help you become ESPC-ready.

This webinar is based on the Foundations of ESPC training offered by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the Energy Services Coalition as part of the DOE-NASEO Return-to-Work Initiative.

Sending science majors into elementary schools helps Latino and Black students realize scientists can look like them

A student’s drawings of a scientist upon starting and after completing the Young Scientists Program. USC Young Scientists Program, CC BY-NC-ND

by Dieuwertje J. Kast, University of Southern California

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

After taking part in hands-on STEM lab experiments as part of a youth science program I coordinate, Latino and Black students were more likely to picture scientists as people who look like them – and not stereotypical white men in lab coats.

The Young Scientists Program at the Joint Educational Project of the University of Southern California offers specialized science, technology, engineering and math instruction in local elementary schools that have mostly Latino and Black students – two groups long underrepresented in STEM fields. My colleagues and I recruit undergrad and graduate STEM majors to teach lab experiments at seven schools in Los Angeles. About 2,400 students in grades two to five receive 20 hours of instruction each year. Over 80% of the students are Latino, and about 13% are African American.

We wanted to get a sense of whether the program increases the kids’ interest in science, as well as whether it changes how they view scientists. To do so, we used an evaluation tool based on the Draw-A-Scientist-Test created by educational researcher David Wade Chambers in 1983 which assessed kids’ preconceived notions of what scientists look like. Researchers later developed a checklist for the drawings that includes certain characteristics like gender, age, race and being in a laboratory.

When our program began collecting drawings of scientists from its participating students in 2015, 90% of the pictures were of white men in lab coats, often looking like Albert Einstein. About 10% of the students did not know what a scientist is or does. This was demonstrated by students who wrote “I don’t know” or drew question marks on their drawings.

The drawings have become more diverse over time, which we attribute to a gamut of reasons including hiring more diverse teaching staff and incorporating more examples of scientists of color into our programming.

In fall of 2019, before beginning the yearlong program, we asked the kids to draw a picture of a scientist. Just under 40% drew white female scientists, 6% drew scientists of color – either men or women – and 6% drew themselves as a scientist. Almost half of them, 48%, depicted scientists as either white men or cartoon characters. After completing the program, the kids were asked to draw a picture of a scientist again. This time, 37% of them drew white women, 10% drew scientists of color and 9% drew themselves. Only 44% drew white men or cartoon characters.

These increases in students who drew themselves or scientists of color, though perhaps seemingly small, are significant. They demonstrate that the students are developing and internalizing an identity of becoming a scientist.

A Latina student drew herself as a scientist. USC Young Scientists Program

Why it matters

Black workers make up only 9% of the STEM workforce, and Latino workers represent 8%, though they are roughly 13% and 19% of the U.S. population, respectively. Similarly, Black and Latino undergrad and graduate students are less likely to earn STEM degrees than white and Asian students.

Without diversity in the STEM fields, it’s harder for students of color to see themselves as future scientists. Research shows a more diverse scientific community would likely lead to more innovation, better health care, more supportive academic spaces and a greater trust in science, just to name a few benefits.

What still isn’t known

We hope that students who finish the Young Scientists Program continue to pursue STEM and go on to become scientists themselves. However, that data is not available, and we are unable to track the graduates. We do have one former participant and four other community students who are STEM majors who are now on staff and teaching science in the community where they grew up. This epitomizes the goal of our program.

What’s next

To change students’ preconceived notions of scientists as being white and male, it’s important they experience diverse science teachers, are taught about scientists of color in history and see diverse characters in science-related children’s books. Its our hope to see more of the students in our program drawing scientists of color or themselves as scientists in future drawings.

Dieuwertje J. Kast, Director of STEM Education Programs of the Joint Educational Project, University of Southern California

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wind farms bring windfalls for rural schools, but school finance laws limit how money is spent

Texas has collected and spent more money on wind energy than any other state. Daxis/flickr, CC BY-ND

by Eric Brunner (University of Connecticut); Ben Hoen (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and Joshua Hyman (Amherst College)

On the website for the local school district in Blackwell – a town of just over 300 people in rural Texas – school Superintendent Abe Gott says: “We believe that no matter your dreams, you can achieve them from Blackwell, Texas.

To back that up, the Blackwell Consolidated Independent School District provides a postsecondary scholarship of up to US$36,000 for graduates from the district’s single high school. So far 140 students have benefited from scholarships, according to Gott.

The money that makes this possible came from a $35 million deal the school district brokered with a wind farm company in 2005, part of the massive growth of that sector in Nolan County and Texas.

The spread of wind energy in rural America has been a financial boon to school districts such as the one in Blackwell. However, because of the complexity of how schools are financed, the impact on student achievement is limited, according to a new study that we conducted as researchers in public finance, education economics and energy policy.

Windfall of wind taxes

Nolan County – one of three counties served by the school district – is home to 1,371 wind turbines that generate a maximum of 2,097 megawatts, or enough to power half a million Texas homes per year. That includes the 585-megawatt Sweetwater Wind Farm and the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow project, which was the largest in the world when it came online in 2006.

Over the past 25 years wind energy has blossomed in the United States, rising from less than 2 gigawatts of capacity in 1995 to over 110 GW last year, enough to meet more than 7% of the entire nation’s electricity supply. It provides more than 10% of supply in 14 states, and more than 40% in two of those states — Iowa and Kansas.

By 2020, there were over 1,600 commercial wind installations made up of almost 68,000 individual turbines. The industry is continuing to grow rapidly, with another 200 gigawatts of projects applying for grid connections as of the end of 2020.

With all this rural development come property tax revenues. Wind projects paid an estimated $1.6 billion in property tax revenues to states and local jurisdictions in 2019.

That is no doubt welcome revenue for school districts in rural areas, which sometimes struggle to generate local tax revenue. But as researchers we wanted to know: How are school districts using wind farm revenues? And is this money helping boost student achievement?

High school students and their teacher both wear masks in a classroom.
Revenue from wind turbines can allow for schools to hire more teachers. RichLegg/E+ via Getty Images

To find out, we collected data on new U.S. wind installations from 1995 through 2017 and tax revenue trends in school districts. We then checked to see if new wind farms led to significant changes in school budgets and how school districts spent their money, such as on things like new buildings, hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, or boosting teacher salaries.

We found that wind energy installations led to large increases in local revenues to school districts. Schools dramatically increased spending on capital outlays, such as buildings and equipment, but made only modest increases to their operating budgets, like hiring more teachers to reduce class size.

When priorities and policies collide

Numerous studies have shown that smaller class sizes result in better student achievement. So why are districts putting new tax revenues into capital spending rather than class size reduction?

We think it is due to state school finance formulas and state- and county-level tax laws, and the incentives they provide to school administrators.

As wind grew it expanded from only 16 school districts in 1995 to 900 districts spread across 38 states in 2016. Leading the pack are rural areas of the West, the Midwest and Texas.

The amount of tax revenue a school district gets from a wind energy installation depends on state and local laws and how those laws interact with state school finance formulas.

States use a wide variety of approaches to tax wind farms, ranging from normal property tax treatment to full exemptions. Sometimes wind farms make “payments in lieu of taxes,” known as PILOTs.

Kansas, for example, exempts wind projects from property taxes for the first 10 years. Some wind companies make PILOT payments to hosting counties, but individual school districts are often left out of those deals. Wyoming has a centralized system of school finance, so any revenue generated from wind projects is captured entirely by the state and redistributed to schools following a formula.

Texas, the No. 1 wind energy state, has a complicated system of local taxation of wind farms. Because of the state’s school finance system, much of the additional property tax revenue generated by wind installations can be captured by the state.

Texas uses a formula to take money from school districts with high property tax revenues per pupil and give it to poorer districts.

But that does not apply to local property tax revenue dedicated to paying off debt in Texas. So school districts have a strong incentive to borrow money by selling bonds to pay for capital improvements, then use revenues from the wind farms to pay off the bonds.

As a result, school districts in Texas tend to put wind tax revenues into buildings and facilities, rather than into teachers and operations. For example, the Blackwell school district, in addition to its scholarship fund, has spent $15 million for a new football stadium and academic complex.

Impact on school finances

The growth in wind energy development over time and across the country provides an ideal setting to examine how wind energy – or really any outside boost in funding – can impact school district finances and, in turn, student performance.

Our sample included 638 school districts that had a wind energy installation at some point between 1995 and 2017. Not surprisingly, these “wind districts” tend to be smaller and more rural than the average school district.

We found that new wind farms result in large increases in the amount of local revenue that is brought in per student, with only small reductions in state aid. We also found large boosts in per-pupil expenditures. Texas, especially, collected and spent more than other states.

But we found that most of those new expenditures were used for building improvements or new facilities rather than operating or “current” expenses. District spending on buildings went up by as much as 73%, while operating expenditures increased only slightly, by about 2%.

A local school undergoes construction.
Schools are more likely to use new wind revenues to build up their infrastructure. Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Formulas at play

This allocation of funds seems to be driven in part by the formulas that states use to provide aid to local school districts. States typically reduce the amount of funds they send to a district that sees an increase in local tax revenues, in order to equalize spending.

In some cases, though, that applies only when a district spends more on day-to-day operations, not when it boosts building improvements or new construction. So to avoid losing state aid, districts are more likely to use any new local revenues from wind farms for new buildings or repairs than for operating expenses.

This is exactly what we saw in our study. While school facilities and equipment no doubt improved, new wind farm revenues resulted in little to no change in class sizes or teacher salaries. In line with past research that shows better lower student-to-teacher ratios are clearly connected to student achievement, we found little change in student outcomes.

So while new development from wind energy can significantly boost rural economies and tax revenues, decisions on how the money is used are still made within the constraints of local school finance policy and law.

Eric Brunner, Professor of Economics and Policy, University of Connecticut; Ben Hoen, Research Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Joshua Hyman, Assistant Professor of economics, Amherst College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute launches new tool to track air pollution at every U.S. school

Read the full story from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) today unveiled a new interactive, web-based tool for tracking industrial toxic air pollution at every school in the United States. The tool, Air Toxics at School, reports toxicity-weighted concentrations of pollutants to show individual chronic human health risk from industrial toxic air pollutants at the schools’ locations.

Greening STEM Hub

The Greening STEM Hub, developed by the National Environmental Education Foundation, provides tools and resources to help engage learners of all ages with practical lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that focus on real-world challenges within the natural environment.

The Greening STEM approach is an adaptable framework for creating a series of integrated and holistic learning activities. It is broad enough to accommodate the various educational standards and competencies, yet adaptable enough to operate outside of that framework.

The Greening STEM Hub:

The Schools at the Front Lines of Solar

Read the full story at Next City.

In the early 2010’s Chisago Lakes was leading the way, but they’re now one of a growing number of school districts that are using solar not only to save money and reduce their carbon footprints, but to increase learning and vocational opportunities for their students as well.

This is thanks in part to Solar in Schools, an initiative of Generation 180, a non-profit that inspires and equips people to take action on clean energy.

Answering the Call: EnviroAtlas Team Supports Teachers and Educators during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

EPA’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic has been broad—ranging from developing an approach for monitoring the virus in wastewater to finding the best approaches for cleaning and disinfection. EPA is also assisting in an unexpected way: helping educators quickly adjust to teaching in the virtual environment.

EPA’s EnviroAtlas team is no stranger to environmental education. Over the past four years they have worked to create educational lesson plans that help K-12 and higher-ed educators incorporate EPA science into their curricula. Starting with the 2016 Building a Greenway Case Study, to the suite of ecosystem services mini-lessons published in early 2020, EnviroAtlas lesson plans on ecosystems, mapping, watersheds, and eco-health connections are aligned with state and Next Generation Science Standards and give students the opportunity to engage with real science, data, and maps from EPA.

As the reality of COVID-19 set in, the need for online-based resources surged. The EnviroAtlas team worked with EPA regions and programs, teachers, and education-focused organizations to not only get educators up to speed on EPA’s existing online educational resources, but also to adapt lesson plans for complete virtual use to meet the new demand. One such partnership came from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who hosted a virtual summer course for educators called, “A Right to Nature in the City: The Importance of Urban Environmental Education” that explored an investigation of how natural systems can help communities and schools create change for a greener, more equitable future. The EnviroAtlas team partnered with members of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice to include environmental justice considerations in their Greenway Case Study educational activity and convert it into a fully virtual format.

Indianapolis Public Schools Is Recognized As National Leader In K-12 Sustainability

Read the full story at Patch.

After years of dedicated energy conservation efforts, including a partnership with Cenergistic LLC, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) attained Goal Achiever certification from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Better Buildings Challenge for 2020.

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