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Science Museum of Virginia Awarded Grant to Empower “Citizen Scientists”

The Museum will lead a team of residents, government officials, nonprofits, business owners and health system partners to develop a plan to assess air quality (how clean or polluted air is) in the area immediately surrounding the Museum’s 33-acre urban campus.,

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The Science Museum of Virginia will be working with volunteer “citizen scientists” to analyze and suggest ways that we can all breathe a little easier. This is happening as the result of a nearly $250,000 grant.

Full Press Release:

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded the Science Museum of Virginia a nearly $250,000 grant to lead volunteer teams of “citizen scientists” to assess and guide improvements to air quality in Richmond neighborhoods over the next three years. The federal funds further the Museum’s efforts both to understand how a warming climate impacts Richmond, including the health of residents, and to engage citizens in the process of collecting and interpreting environmental data.

“Our personal health is intimately linked to the health of the environment,” said Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti. “We’re thrilled to get support from IMLS to further empower community partners and neighbors to use scientific tools to better understand our air quality at the hyperlocal level. Through these collaborative efforts, we will explore the backyard impacts of global climate change and provide citizens with information to help them build more resilient communities.”

The Museum will lead a team of residents, local and state government officials, nonprofits, business owners and health system partners to develop a plan to assess air quality (how clean or polluted air is) in the area immediately surrounding the Museum’s 33-acre urban campus, which includes the rapidly changing Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Volunteers will use hand-held devices to measure a variety of pollutants in the local atmosphere, building on pilot work with collaborators at Virginia Commonwealth University Division of Community Engagement, the University of Richmond and Virginia Union University. The Museum will also use part of the $249,631 grant funds to partner with Groundwork RVA to measure air quality in select limited-resource areas across Richmond.

Poor air quality can exacerbate allergy symptoms, aggravate asthma, inhibit lung function and contribute to diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema. While the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality measures air quality just outside of the metro Richmond region, neighborhood-specific data, which could vary greatly depending on the amount of impervious surfaces, transportation hubs, housing density and green spaces, is not available.

“Before we co-develop strategies to mitigate the risks of climate change on our city, we have to fill important data gaps,” said Museum Scientist and grant co-principal investigator Dr. Jeremy Hoffman. “As we’ve seen from previous projects, acquiring those data with community partners fosters deeper understanding and engagement with solutions. By empowering citizens to get out there and measure these environmental stressors themselves with the necessary tools, we can generate meaningful outcomes together.”

The information collected in both of the proposal’s community-based studies will inform neighborhood-specific solutions and broader community sustainability plans. Actively engaging citizens in this process will deepen participants’ understanding of science, and contribute to research-based solutions that improve the well-being of the community.

“The City of Richmond is excited to be part of this collaborative effort that enables residents who are most affected by local climate impacts to participate in citizen science projects,” said City of Richmond Sustainability Manager Alicia Zatcoff. “The valuable information citizens collect will help inform the city’s RVAgreen 2050 equity-centered climate action initiative and benefit our entire community.”

The Museum first led a “citizen science” campaign in 2017 when teams of volunteers measured air temperatures around Richmond during an extreme heat wave. This “urban heat island” assessment helped scientists, policymakers and public health professionals better understand the effects of extreme heat, which is exacerbated by climate change and urban design, at the hyperlocal level. In addition, the effort raised questions about other factors that can intensify with a warming climate, such as spikes in heat related illnesses, particularly in limited-resource neighborhoods.

Dr. Jeremy Hoffman sharing the urban heat island data with Congressman Donald McEachin at a 2017 event at the Science Museum of Virginia – Photo Credit: Science Museum of Virginia

Since the urban heat island data was collected two years ago, the Museum has worked to share and contextualize the information in easy-to-understand visual ways. In the coming years, the Museum plans to do the same with the air quality data the teams collect through this IMLS-supported project.

“Our previous citizen science efforts show that participants better understand the role science plays in their day-to-day decisions if they are part of the collaborative process,” said Hoffman. “We value hands-on boots-on-the-ground opportunities that offer citizens the chance to contribute to the science capital in our community, and appreciate that IMLS sees the value in that, also. The funding of this important project is an example of how we can all work together—at the local, regional, state and federal level—to improve the livability of our city and health of our neighbors.”

Scientists Vivek Shandas and Jeremy Hoffman training volunteers for the citizen science urban heat island campaign. – Photo Credit: Jeremy Hoffman

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services MA-20-19-0255-19.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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Richmond Craft Mafia’s Virtual Craft Show

Spring Bada Bing is postponed but your ability to pick up wonderfully hand-crafted items will not be denied.

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One of the many ripple effects of no large gatherings of people is that local crafters have lost their ability to make some cash. Richmond Craft Mafia has come up with a nice solution, the Virtual Craft Show.

With Spring Bada Bing postponed we were looking for a way to support small businesses through this extremely hard time. We decided as a group to do a “virtual craft show” so you can support awesome makers while stuck at home.

The first vendor we would like to highlight is Bright Life Toys. They create funky kawaii plush toys and Waldorf movement toys. They believe in creative play for creative kids! I will be highlighting this adorable company all day on our Instagram. Make sure you are following us at @richmondcraftmafia

You can purchase products from Bright Life Toys by visiting their etsy shop at: http://www.brightlifetoys.etsy.com

The otter is the cutest thing ever.

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Education

Distance learning poses challenges for students, teachers

Students and teachers are transitioning from classroom to computer as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to distance learning, as students and instructors have discovered.

Capital News Service

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By Jimmy O’Keefe

Students and teachers at all levels of education are transitioning from classroom to computer as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to distance learning, as students and instructors have discovered.

“I think we’re all really frustrated,” said Jordyn Wade, a fashion design major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “But we know that our professors are doing what they can in a really unprecedented situation.”

Wade said that she and her classmates are now meeting remotely through Zoom, a video conferencing platform. Zoom allows students to meet virtually during a time when people can’t meet physically, but distance learning poses challenges for courses that require more than a lecture, like art classes and lab components of science classes.

Students like Wade worked mostly with industrial grade equipment.

“We kind of rely heavily on the school for supplies like sewing machines and the industrial equipment that can cost thousands of dollars,” Wade said. “Now we just stare at each other and they ask us,‘What can you guys do? Can you hand sew an entire jacket before the end of the month?’”

Wade said that one of the most frustrating aspects of distance learning is not being able to receive direct feedback from professors.

“We can’t ask our professors what’s wrong with the garment that we’re making, we can just send them pictures and hope they can figure it out from afar,” Wade said.

Chloe Pallak, a student in VCU’s art program said that many of her projects are being graded on whether or not they are complete.

“To get a grade for an assignment, you just have to do it,” Pallak said. “It really takes away the motivation of wanting to make art and not just complete the assignment.”

Courses that include lab components, such as classes in environmental science, also face challenges as classes move online. Griffin Erney, an environmental studies major at VCU, said that distance learning prevents students from accessing lab materials that are typically provided in the classroom.

“Before the class was online we would just do different activities and be provided with the materials,” Erney said. “Having labs online is more challenging, on top of all the work that we already have.”

On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an order that closed down all K-12 schools in the state for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Davide D’Urbino, a chemistry and organic chemistry teacher at Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield County, said he plans on using computer applications to supplement labs that cannot be completed in the classroom. He said the school division requested that teachers hold off on introducing new learning material.

“The expectation was that you could teach new stuff, but then you have to go back in class and reteach it,” D’Urbino said.

D’Urbino said teachers aren’t allowed to teach new material online because some students may not have internet access. He said he understands why the school division has placed these restrictions but said it “feels weird.”

Distance learning has also presented challenges to teachers trying to adapt to lecturing online.

“Some people say teaching is 75 percent theater, you just go out there and do improv. You can’t really do that online,” D’Urbino said. “It’s very difficult to intervene and correct course if you realize something isn’t quite working out.”

Teachers have also scrambled for ways to continue instruction for students that lack access to the internet.

Janice Barton, a 5th grade science teacher at Honaker Elementary School in Russell County, said that about half of the 60 students she teaches have access to the internet. She said the school is using Google Classroom, a web platform that allows teachers to share files with students through the internet. For students without internet access, teachers create physical packets of learning content.

“We’re working as grade levels, we’re going in and working together to put the packets together,” Barton said. “We have pickup days and drop-off days, and that’s how we are working and dealing with this right now.”

Barton said the school uses phone calls, emails, and the app Remind, which allows teachers to send messages to students to keep in contact with parents and students.

While local school divisions are tasked with making decisions on how to pursue distance learning, the Virginia Department of Education issued guidance to help divisions continue instruction.

VDOE’s guidance to local school divisions includes offering instruction during the summer of 2020, extending the school term or adjusting the next, and adding learning modules to extended school calendars.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane issued guidance regarding eight high school senior graduation requirements and will be issuing further guidance for half of those, which can not be waived outright.

Two other graduation requirements — training in emergency first aid and the completion of a virtual course — require action by the General Assembly in order to be waived.

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Fox Elementary Teacher Train Coming to a Street Near You Today

Fox teachers and staff are driving through the area to say hello and goodbye to their students. Give them so love back.

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Fox teachers are driving through the district to say hello to their students. Show them how much y’all miss and appreciate them. Make a poster, wave, give a virtual high-five from a safe distance to cheer them on.

Parade Route

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