Taking Data to Heart

An example Air Quality map from the U.S. EPA.

An example Air Quality map from the U.S. EPA.


Children are intrigued with understanding the environment – especially when their knowledge can help get them out of gym class. Ms. Rodriguez, the 7th grade science teacher was astonished and delighted when the school’s gym teacher stopped by her classroom one afternoon.

Ms. Rodriguez teaches science in Camden, New Jersey. The majority of her students come to her classroom underprepared and unmotivated to learn science. She consistently struggles to identify new approaches to present the science content in engaging contexts. She knows the students enjoy the integration of computers into their lessons, but finding computer based materials engaging enough to keep students on task is challenging.

One evening, Ms. Rodriguez heard a news report about the poor air quality conditions in the Camden area. She decided to do some investigation and try to figure out a way to integrate the topic of air quality into the environmental science unit she taught every year. Ms. Rodriguez learned of an internet-based series of lessons that not only challenges students to access, interpret and use real time data to complete the lessons, but also makes connections between poor air quality and potential health impacts.

During the implementation of the lessons, Ms. Rodriguez was impressed that her students seemed to really engage with the lessons, demonstrated significant learning progress, and did not groan about creating graphs – a major accomplishment. She was satisfied that the unit was a “hit” with her students and achieved all of her learning goals. She decided it was a good unit to repeat the following year.

Three weeks after the unit ended, Ms. Rodriguez was in her classroom afterschool and the gym teacher walked in. He sat down, looked Ms. Rodriguez in the eye and said “You are killing me”. Quite perplexed by the situation, she sat stunned and silent. The gym teacher continued, “Do you know your students refused to go outside for gym class today due to poor air quality?” The students continued and explained to the gym teacher how poor air quality conditions can have significant impact on their health. They checked the real time data right before gym class and deemed the current conditions simply unacceptable for an outdoor class.

Although the gym teacher was initially upset, he came to the larger understanding of how the students were not only learning science, but applying it, and applying it appropriately, to their lives – something all teachers know is sorely needed in their students’ lives.

Ms. Rodriguez continues to implement the unit, and obtain similar results with her students; however, she does always make a point to let the gym teacher know.

For more information on Air Quality check out the following resources:

  • Air Pollution: What’s the Solution – An educational project for students, grades 6 – 12, that uses online real time data to guide student discovery of the science behind the causes and effects of outdoor air pollution.
  • AirNow – Real-time air quality data and maps for the United States as measured and forecasted by EPA, NOAA and other agencies.

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