Going Mobile

By Sean Cavanagh — February 03, 2009 1 min read
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Sometimes an in-class lab is not enough.

I recently received a notice about a bus that is being used in Chicago-area schools as a sort of mobile science classroom to teach students about clean-air and environmental issues. It’s one of a number of mobile science labs I’ve heard of over the years. The idea is pretty simple. You retrofit a bus or vehicle of some sort, which you then send from school to school, so that teachers make use of it to teach students about a specific science concept—in this case, environmental issues. The bus is officially known as the Clean Air Bus Club.

The vehicle in this case is owned by the Cook Illinois Corp., a bus company that serves about 2,000 schools in the Chicago region. The company has switched 90 percent of its bus fleet to biodiesel. The bus that is being used for the mobile lab was old, and most likely destined for the scrap heap, John Benish Jr., the company’s chief operating officer told me, until the company decided to retrofit it into a “museum-on-wheels.” The company, according to a statement forwarded to me, sponsored the bus as a way to increase awareness of asthma among school-age children, and its link with pollution.

The bus, which features hands-on interactive environmental exhibits, is available for free visits to Chicago-area schools, libraries, and community events. The company spent about $20,000 renovating the inside and outside of the vehicle, Benish said. About 1,100 students have toured it so far.

One of the long-running science labs-on-wheels is Alabama Science in Motion , which delivers resources to students and professional development to teachers in that state. Mobile labs, operating in different regions, deliver resources to schools across the state, as part of the program. It operates as part of the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, or AMSTI, one of the largest state-run professional-development and classroom-improvement initiatives in math and science in the country. I wrote about AMSTI back in January, as part of a series of stories about Alabama’s efforts to improve math and science instruction.

If you know of similar labs-on-wheels, or have ideas on how they can be improved, let me know.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.