Learning about the Air Quality Health Index
Environment Canada has a cool new tool to help kids learn about air quality – the Air Quality Health Index Learning Stations.
AQHI for Kids
The Air Quality Health Index is a scale designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health.
Photo: © Environment Canada, 2010
First, a word about the Air Quality Health Index, or AQHI for short. What is it, and why is it important for kids?
“The AQHI started early this decade as a way to revise the Air Quality Index, to make it better,” says Chantal Duhaime, Environment Canada Outreach Officer. “It was important to have more of a health aspect to it.”
It is a partnership led by Environment Canada and Health Canada, with the provinces and with health and environmental organizations. It was rolled out starting in the summer of 2007 in Toronto and, at this point, it covers 48 communities across Canada that includes about half of Canada’s population.
That level of involvement led Environment Canada’s AQHI team to begin work on this new kids’ initiative.
“We started on this project a year and a half ago,” explains Environmental Program Officer Thera Ip, who works with Duhaime on an Environment Canada AQHI team that also includes Dave Henderson and Sharon Jeffers. “Children can spend a lot of time active outdoors. They are still growing and their lungs are still developing, so they are more susceptible to poor air quality. We realized there was very little air quality education for kids, so we wanted to create something useful and specifically geared towards them.”
In deciding what age group to focus on, Ip consulted with two educational consultants whom Environment Canada had worked with before.
“They helped us create learning stations or lesson plans geared towards awareness of the Air Quality Health Index,” continues Ip. “We geared it to grades five and six because we looked at the curriculum outcomes and decided kids at that age were the best opportunity for us to present this material.”
The fun and interactive activities in the Air Quality Health Index Learning Stations help students in Grades five and six learn about the AQHI.
Photo: © Environment Canada, 2010
Here’s the program lowdown
Educators can choose from six 30-minute learning centres for their students, building skills in literacy, communication, reflection, and problem-solving. Developed directly from provincial and territorial curriculum documents, topics include: ways to prepare for and predict various weather and/or air quality conditions; how media, friends, colleagues and family get information to make decisions about outdoor safety; and environmental health issues.
Students can expect to spend 30 minutes at each of the six learning stations, which include activities and handouts on the following topics:
- Science in the News – Students read about science in the news and describe ways to respond to, prepare for, or choose outdoor activities for various weather conditions.
- Behind the Scenes: Canada’s Next Top AQHI Model! – Students use the weather and an air quality health index to make choices about how to prepare for different outdoor activities.
- Jumping to Conclusions – Students describe and predict local air quality conditions using real-time air quality and weather data. Then they write conclusions using a new twist to old-fashioned fill-in-the blanks.
- Getting Ready for Work – Students use narrative to reflect on how they make decisions and communicate their personal, family and community attitudes towards healthy lifestyles and safety.
- Air Qualitopoly – Students use co-operative learning to design a board game on air quality and sun health.
- Kids Know Best! – Students identify and solve local environmental health issues by engaging in a collaborative, problem-solving cycle.
What teachers really like about these lesson plans is that they are informative and interactive, using a variety of techniques to engage the students. These learning stations focus not only on the AQHI, but on other health and weather forecast tools that Environment Canada produces such as the UV index, wind chill, humidex, frost, etc., and how these tools tie into our everyday lifestyle. For example, one of the lesson plans presents a local environmental health issue and the children are instructed to get together in a group to try to solve it. By the end of the lesson, the children feel great because they have taken steps to solve a problem.
Coming to you soon …
This educational initiative is still somewhat in its infancy. Only finalized in April 2010, it has been demonstrated at a few trade shows and in a few cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax, as well as some locations in British Columbia. In particular, it received a warm reception this past October at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto during National Science & Technology Week.
“Air quality is a misunderstood topic,” notes Ip. “It’s not a curriculum requirement to teach air quality. But we’re starting to talk to teachers at conferences, and we’re building awareness among key audiences. We hope to be able to put it up on the Web by the end of March 2011.”
For more information, please visit www.airhealth.ca.
- Date Modified:
- Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index Learning Stations help kids in grade five and six learn about the AQHI.
- Educators can choose from six 30-minute learning centres for their students, building skills in literacy, communication, reflection, and problem-solving
- The AQHI now covers 48 communities across Canada, and includes about half of Canada’s population.