Behavior problems, increased liability and a lack of green space make it difficult for teachers in some of Boston’s public high schools to take their students outside for lessons about the environment.
But the Urban Ecology Institute (UEI) is trying to change that.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, UEI supports science teachers with environmental curricula, materials and training.
Tommy Hayes, a first-year environmental science teacher at Charlestown High School, is creative in his attempts to get his students engaged. During one recent class, he motioned for a student listening to an iPod to give him the device. The student started to shut it off.
“No, leave it on,” Hayes said. The teacher took one of the earbuds, placed it into a decibel reader and asked a young woman to read it.
“Ninety-eight!” she shouted, before warning the iPod owner that he will lose his hearing if he keeps up his listening habits.
In a previous class, the young woman learned that sounds registering at levels higher than 80 on the decibel reader cause damage to human ears.
On this particular day, the lesson was on bird audiology. The students measured, in decibels, the rumble of a bus rolling past (66 decibels), the grinding groans of a dump truck (75 decibels), and the screeching beeps of the dump truck traveling in reverse (72 decibels).
Some students shouted and screamed into the readers, seeing how loud they could get.
Back in the classroom, Hayes delivered the punchline.
“If you’re a bird, and you’re singing your bird song because you need to find a mate, or find food or warn about danger,” he said, shouting over the dismissal bell, “how can you compete with all that?”
UEI’s in-school education program is designed to help students “look closely at the human impact on the environment in places where the environment is under a lot of stress,” said Peter Piazza, in-school education program manager for UEI.
It also aims to show young people that “nature exists in the city,” and that they can make things better, he added.(p2)