Caryl Waggett: Using Lead in the Environment in ES 415: Environmental Health, at Allegheny College
About this CourseUpper division natural science course used for students in Environmental Science (advanced science elective); Environmental Studies (advanced science elective); Global Health Studies (advanced elective in Science, Health & Environment Dimension); Education (elective Public Health); Biology; Chemistry.
Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 268kB Oct14 16)
Understanding Health Disparities through Data-driven ExplorationMy advanced-level course in environmental health allows students to explore a variety of representative cases – heavy metal contamination, vector-borne diseases, the health effects of the built environment. I have moved from an advanced "survey" course to spending more time on fewer topics, allowing students to really delve into the challenges and complexities inherent in each case. Students were actively engaged at each step and gained a comprehensive understanding of biophysical cycles and of human social and political systems as we have attempted to reduce children's risk of lead exposure across a range of scales. This Lead module was a deep exploration of lead in the environment and in humans, and how it gets there – but it also included an equally deep exploration of the challenges of managing risk for an individual family, community, or the country as a whole.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials
My class was a 2x per week class (75 minutes), with a 3-hour lab associated with it. So, I used the 3x/week model and either expanded on one of the key sections in the lab or tried out some of the extra activities in the Tips for Instructors section. Some of the tips had good recommendations, but they are not as well fleshed out, so I recommend for anyone tackling this module for the first time to stick with the more refined sections. The students loved having more time to discuss some of the really interesting topics, and we used the extra class time in the Unit I: Predicting Impacts on Populations and Individuals class to talk about the breaking news of Flint Michigan and to input some data that were released from the Flint water supply into the model. We used the extra time in the Unit II: Social Determinants class to discuss the recent case of Freddie Gray, a black man who was killed in Baltimore, MD who was lead poisoned as a child. The students loved the extra time to explore more recent cases and events within the structure of this module.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
I pilot tested this module in my advanced ENVSC 415 Environmental Health class. The class is a semester-long course and had 22 students in the Fall 2015, when I piloted this module. The Lead in the Environment module was the last segment of the class, each lasting approximately three weeks. This module followed other sections on:
- Assessing Causality: Using Epidemiological Tools
- Vector-Borne Diseases: Lyme Disease Case Study
- Climate Change and Human Health
- Built Environment: Neighborhood Design, Food Environment, and Disparate Health Outcomes
- Lead in the Environment
AssessmentsThe Environmental Health students loved playing with the data at the state level, exploring the GIS maps that were developed exploring various social determinants of health in Boston neighborhoods, and exploring the models that allow us to predict which social conditions or events could lead to different patterns in disease prevalence. In each instance, they reflected on why data gaps exist and how to improve data collection to reduce these gaps and while the explicit goals in these specific activities was on data and not policy assessment, the activities forced the students to critically evaluate gaps - in screening, in diagnosis, in patient education, in policies, and in risk reduction strategies for some of the most vulnerable populations. The students came to life when they were able to wade into real data.
As a whole, the students were on average shy and less excited about the City Council board meeting simulation in which they were asked to participate, but loved the summative assessment policy brief that they had to develop for this fictional town.
OutcomesStudents in this advanced class come mostly from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including Environmental Studies, Global Health, Education and International Studies. I hoped that the students would be able to gain a deeper understanding of data, the impacts of a specific heavy metal within a human body, and the pathways that lead takes as it cycles from a mineral, its extraction, its commercial use and dissemination, and its secondary life as a by-product that can cause severe human harm.
In this particular class, students really loved playing with the data and the applied setting helped make many scientific concepts really clear. I was surprised to find that the students had sufficient excitement and interest in the subject that I could have covered far more than three weeks within the course - perhaps even used this is a vehicle for the entire class.