The Power of a Class Project
How Let’s Talk Science is Helping Kids Take Action
When teachers Gail Mills and Mike Fitzmaurice of Eganville & District Public School brought Let’s Talk Science’s Living Space project into their Grade 4 and 5 classrooms, they had no idea how successful it would be. Gail, an elementary science teacher, who initially learned about the project when she was looking to try something different in her lessons about outer space, has been blown away by how it has taken off in the school. Mike, an elementary math teacher, has been equally amazed by how it sparked so much passion in his students, their parents and even other community members.
What started as a small student project about space and air quality, has blossomed into a much bigger environmental and social justice mission not only in their school—but in their entire community of Eganville, Ontario. The best part? It’s the kids leading the way!
“Programs like Let’s Talk Science help kids see that they can really make a change in the world.” —Mike Fitzmaurice
Let’s Talk Science partnered with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to come up with a hands-on project that helps students explore the key environmental conditions that keep not only astronauts safe and healthy on the International Space Station (ISS)—but every human being on Earth. The Living Space project teaches students about environmental variables such as temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, and how these variables influence human health and well-being. Students collect and record the conditions in their own classroom, analyze the results, comparing them to their knowledge of optimal ranges and other classrooms in the national database, and then come up with a plan for classroom environmental improvements.
Gail and Mike were teaching in basement classrooms in their school when they first took on the project. They already suspected poor air quality with many of their students complaining of dry lips, irritated sinuses and other side effects. And once the kids in the class created the air quality monitor and started to collect the data, they discovered that their suspicions were correct. Their findings showed that their classroom was very dry with relative humidity levels as low as 10% (optimal levels are between 30-40%). They also measured and proved CO2 levels were rising up to 1,700 ppm throughout the day (it’s recommended that indoor CO2 levels should not be more than 1,100 ppm).
This discovery about the poor air quality in their classroom made the students want to learn more. They shared their findings with a parent who was a firefighter and able to visit their classroom to teach them about the dangers of CO2. Another parent involved with health care technologies brought their own monitors to the class to help verify the data, teaching the kids more about connections between air quality and their health.
“It made me feel good seeing people being concerned and helping,” said Carmady, 11, from Gail’s class. Other students had similar things to say about parents and community members getting involved in the project, coming together to learn more and help them create a healthier classroom environment.
The next step was for the students to come up with a plan to improve the air quality in their basement classrooms. They did some research into plants that would help solve both the low humidity and high CO2 levels. Their classroom improvement plan? To deploy five hydroponic grow towers with over 150 romaine lettuce plants. They hypothesized that this type of plant, which absorbs good amounts of CO2 and retains a lot of water, would help humidity levels rise to the 30-40% that is best for both humans and plant growth.
And they were right. New findings showed that classroom humidity and CO2 levels had improved significantly due to no other change than the romaine lettuce grow towers. Talk about the power of plants!
Students shared their knowledge and findings with their parents and the school principal. Letters were written and calls were made. The school eventually began a major air quality upgrade project, which is currently underway—an upgrade that may never have happened without the classroom reports. Armed with scientific evidence and support from their peers, teachers and their families, this group of students were successfully able to advocate for change.
Both Gail and Mike work hard to inspire their students, encourage them to become critical thinkers and challenge the system when needed. “This is why I loved the Let’s Talk Science project,” says Mike. “It really awakened kids to look at their own environment and then take a look at other people’s environments and help them, too.”
Gail agrees, commenting on how the Covid-19 crisis has heightened students’ interest in the project and the investigation of classroom air quality—not just in their own class but in others throughout the school as well. Getting the principal, parents and other community members involved has also been huge. It has let these kids know that their voices are heard.
If you ask almost any educator or parent right now, they will tell you that kids are overwhelmed. From the pandemic and social media to technology and their own emotions, there is so much for young people to process right now. How do we help? We talk, we listen, and we answer their questions. And when we don’t know the answers, we try to find them together. Both Gail and Mike are huge supporters of learning with their students.
“I learn every day with the kids,” says Mike. “Their enthusiasm and inquiries inspire and motivate me. And as parents and educators, we really can’t shield kids from the world anymore. We need to be able to bring important global issues into the classrooms and talk about them.”
Gail feels similarly, stressing that “you have to give them understanding of what’s going on but also a way to help. They have to have hope and they have to have something they can do to make a difference.”
Which is exactly what the Living Space project does. Students learn about air quality in their own classroom—and then learn the skills to come up with a plan to improve it. It starts with a small, simple thing. But grows from there.
As with all of our programs, Let’s Talk Science is able to offer Living Space at no cost to classrooms across Canada through the generous support of our donors. Thank you to the Canadian Space Agency, CanCode and SAP for helping to make this project possible.