Bubble Day – promoting sustainable travel to school

Ali @ LSx

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In January 2012, my colleague and I attended the “London Sustainable School Forum” (LSSF) and participated in the workshop group “Air Quality around school”. With other members from different NGOs and local authorities, our group generated the idea of “Bubble Day” which aimed to promote sustainable travel and improve air quality around schools.

Bubble Day was planned to be a long-term collaborative project; however, due to many reasons, it became more like a one-off small event, mainly carried out by few LSx staff and interns. This report will firstly explain the original plan of Bubble Day, and demonstrate the difficulties during the process. Finally the real implementation with achievement and evaluation will be illustrated.


The “big” original plan

Initial goal

Through a series of interesting activities, Bubble Day would empower the schools to raise awareness around air quality issues and furthermore to influence local environment and decision making

Initial plan

Originally the plan is to create a “Green corridor” linking four London Boroughs, from Croydon through Wandsworth to Westminster and Hackney. One school in each borough would be selected to participate in the plan. Pupils and staff would travel sustainably to schoolon Bubble Day and enjoy varies activities together.

The project would begin in January 2012 once one school from each borough of Wandsworth, Croydon, Westminster and Hackney has been identified. Schools will be given an information pack including an introductory assembly on monitoring air quality around their school over the next 6 months until June 2012, how air quality is linked to their mode of travel to school and why good quality air is important.

Meanwhile pupils need to work towards identifying a zone around their school – a clean air bubble that they want to be free of school traffic on Bubble day. Then they create a map marked a walking zone of 5, 10 and 15 minutes, a cycling zone of 1 kilometre and 2 kilometres and a “park and stride” Zone. The pupils have to send the information home to all parents explaining about bubble day. Pupils also need to engage the residents in the streets surrounding their school by explaining Bubble Day and what they hope to achieve and encourage these residents to leave their cars at home on this day.

On Bubble Day every child and their parent will be invited to travel sustainably to school to an event held in the playground – cycle skills, breakfast, goodies, celebration, air quality monitoring results etc. The street outside school will be closed for a street party to include residents as well as the school community.

Pupils will be capturing all of their progress through out by either filming or photographing key moments as they will be asked to present their findings at a celebration event at the GLA in July. There will also be an opportunity to link up on line with the other school participating in the project. To make the project sustainable it is hoped that the school will make a target to reduce pollution and particulates around their school for the following year and make this an annual event.


Be realistic: things changed

However, after few months, only two Boroughs were able to carry out the Bubble Day event: Corydon and Westminster. A team from Corydon visited LSx. They told us their thoughts about Bubble Day and we also shared our experiences of Cleaner Air 4 School project. However, it was more like information sharing instead of working together. The main reason of failing to implement the original collaborative project was the lack of funding and time[1].

During March, LSx have tried to apply for funds to implement the Bubble Day event but unfortunately we were not able to receive any funds. Due to the lack of financial support, we had to change the strategy and decided to carry out low-cost or non-cost activities. Since all LSx staff’s salary is project-based allocated, it means the staff would not be able to spend much time in Bubble Day. As I am not paid by LSx and I am familiar with the CA4S Project and Bubble Day initiative, I became the main organisor for the event with support from other LSx staff and interns: the programme director provided guidance, the coordinator of CA4S helped with the coordination with external partners, and three interns helped to design and carry out activities.

Finally, Bubble Day was held in Christ Church Bentinck Primary School (CCB) in Westminster on 15th June. CCB is one of the three schools which have been working with LSx for the “Cleaner Air 4 Schools” project in the past five months.


Prepare for the event

Discussion and marking bubble zone

We hold a small internal brainstorm to generate ideas and sought comments from the school. LSx and CCB both knew that the event must be interesting and interactive. Also we hope to integrate some pre-event and post-event activities into the courses.

Before the event, an intern and I visited the school to deliver a one hour “travel mode mapping” activity to Year 4 class. We also walked around the school to confirm our bubble zone which covered a 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute walking radius of the school.

Coordinating with external partners

LSx also invited other external partners to deliver short talks and activities. In May three organizations agree to attend. However, one week before the event two of them informed us that they were not able to participate. Therefore I revised the agenda and reduced three workshops to two.

However, we still got support from two partners: Sustrans hosted a Bike & Breakfast event in the morning and provided gifts for activity winners. OPAL were not able to attend but sent learning materials and stationery as gifts.

We tried to contact some people who have hand held air quality monitoring equipment that we hoped to use for Bubble Day. Unfortunately no equipment was available.

Designing Zero Hero homework and invitation

We designed several materials to help pupils to learn more about air quality and to engage parents:

  • Bubble Day invitation for parents: explains Bubble day and ask if parents could attend the event and help their kids with Zero Hero costumes.
  • Homework Zero Hero design & writing: pupils were asked to draw a Zero Hero who help sustainable lifestyle and to write a short article about the Hero.
  • Homework travel log: Pupils were asked to record their travel method and distance during the Jubilee holiday. Sustainable travel such as walking, cycling and scootering can win higher points. After returning to school, they will calculate the points.

Purchasing materials

It was the most time consuming part in the preparation. Although most activity resources were “free” from LSx office and school, we still need money to buy Ozone test badges (around 70GBP) and planting stuff including compost and seeds (around 30GBP)[2]. Due to the shortage of budget (both LSx and CCB), we had to give up Ozone test activity and three day before the event CCB confirmed that the school would pay the planting materials. Therefore we were able to purchase the seeds and organic compost in the last minute.

On Bubble Day


All school pupils were encouraged to travel to school by sustainable methods. However, only 66 participants attended the Bubble Day event including 55 pupils from Year 4 and Year 5, 6 staff and 5 parents.

Four LSx members (I and three interns) led all activities and we worked as a pair – two handled one workshop. Each workshop had 2-3 activities.

Workshop activities

In the beginning, all participants were given a short introduction about the Bubble Day and how the activities would be carried out. Then the participants were split into two groups and separately entered two workshop zones. After 1 hour, the two groups swapped and moved the other workshop zones.

Workshop A

  • Bubble Zone Walking Map: pupils and staff marked their home with different colour dots which indicated their travel mode.
  • Moth Pledge: pupils and staff made pledges on a moth, they will put a white dot on the black moth when an action completed.
  • Sticky tape analysis : a low-cost, effective method – using sticky tape to observe particulate matter on different surfaces.

Workshop B

  • Citizen science: showing the outcomes of CA4S project, and demonstrating diffusion tubes & ghost wipes. Champions who participated the monitoring activities also share their experience to other pupils.
  • Plants and air pollution: a shortly talk about plants and air quality. All pupils were give a small pot and grown air purifying plants for houses and school.

Certificate and rewards giving

Finally, all participants came to the play ground together for the certificate and rewards giving. Winners from each year were chosen and given goody bags, including longest walking distance, longest cycling distance, homework – Zero Hero design and writing “A day in the life of a Zero Hero”, Zero Hero Costume best costume.


Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is always an important part in LSx projects. We have to record the numbers of direct beneficiaries and indirect beneficiaries– the former is the participants attending activities; the latter is the people who receive the messages of the project and potentially raise their awareness or/and change behaviours. According to the projects and participants, different quantitative and qualitative methods are chosen to deliver M&E. For the whole CA4S project, several common M&E techniques were utilized, including evaluation form, questionnaire survey, interview, focus group discussion, comparison of baseline and follow-up data… etc.

For Bubble Day, a one –off event, we evaluated the event through these ways: recording the numbers of participants, comparing their travel methods to analyse the behaviour change, observing the responses during participation and collecting the feedbacks after the event[3].


Achievement and feedbacks

Sustainable travel on Bubble Day

– Whole school around 200 pupils and staff surveyed)

– Cycling to school : 17 people. This is much more than the data in past surveys[4]

– Walking to school: 127 people. This is slightly more than the past surveys. However, the teacher said a few people who arrived later/through a different entrance may not be counted. So the real number should be more[5].

Bubble Day Event participants

66 Participants from Year 4 and Year 5, including 55 pupils, 6 staff and 5 parents.

l          Bubble Zone Mapping Results

Year 4 : On Bubble Day 21 pupils (75% ) walked to school. This is much higher than CCB’s average (55%). More than half of the pupils live within 0.5 miles to school which means it is only 10 mins walking distance[6]. The winner of “the longest walking distance” lives around 2 miles from school and he walks 40 mins from home to school every day!

Travel mode Number Percentage Walking distance Within  0.3 miles (5 mins) : 10.3-0.5   miles  (10 mins) : 150.5-0.7 miles (15 mins) : 4

More than 1 mile (20 mins) : 1

Cycling distance

0.5   mile : 1

Walk 21 75%
Cycle 1 4%
Bus 0 0%
Car 4 14%
Walk + Train 2 7%
Year   4 total 28 100%


Year 5 : On Bubble Day 4 pupils (15%) cycled to school. This is much higher than CCB’s average (2%). Pupils 14 pupils (54%) walked to school which is similar to the CCB’s average.

Travel mode Number Percentage Walking distance Within  0.3 miles (5 mins) : 50.3-0.5   miles  (10 mins) : 8More than 1 mile (20 mins): 1

Cycling distance

Within  0.3 miles: 2

0.5-0.7 miles: 1

More than 1 mile: 1

Walk 14 54%
Cycle 4 15%
Bus 3 12%
Car 3 12%
Car + Walk 1 4%
Train + Bus + Cycle 1 4%
Year   5 total 26 100%

Feedbacks from teachers

The positive feedbacks included: great interactive activities, well organized, children loved the prizes and were motivated, Zero Hero preparation worked very well.

The negative feedbacks includes: Needed more visuals and too much talking for children to be fully engaged, children don’t study percentages or pie charts until Y6 so it was difficult to follow, A3 sheets too small to see and language too technical.

Some quotes:

“ I have heard positive comments from the children and staff about the bubble day activities. We hope that you enjoyed it too” (head teacher)

“Thanks again for Friday, the children had a great time…was very happy with the day” (Year 4 teacher)

Our observation

Sustainable travel

A lot of children made a special effort to walk to school for the day, but from feedback it seems many pupils do not cycle due to the inherent safety issues. The bubble mapping did take longer than planned, as not all of the children knew exactly where they lived. Hopefully all pupils will keep walking to school after the event. The school is organizing a “walking bus” programme that will engage more pupils and parents walking to school.

Workshop activities

All of the children seemed to enjoy the day, particularly the hands-on activities: planting and sticky tape. We tried to prepare visual aids but it seemed not enough and we did not fully understand the level of pupils’ knowledge of math and history. It was difficult to explain details for the Peppered moth story, not many pupils knew about the industrial revolution and it relied purely on speaking.

Zero Hero competition

Some information was not spread thoroughly. The zero hero costumes were a really good idea, but less than 10 pupils wear the costumes. Year 5 submitted the Zero Hero design and writing but they did not know about the costumes. All Zero Hero design and writing had not been collected by teachers before we arrived at school. Therefore we did not have time to display all works and we could only select the winners hurriedly in a very short time.

Personal feeling

All colleagues were supportive and always encouraged me, but I had been very nervous and anxious. After all, it was my first time in charge of the whole event. I knew it has no budget and we had to carry out it effectively. However, because many unexpected changes from the school and external partners, and our shortage of budget to purchase materials, I spent a lot of time revising the agenda and costing the products which made me felt frustrated. I did learn a lot during the process and enjoyed the work, but when the even finished I really felt relieved!

[1] Like LSx, most organisations have their own project agenda. Even we agreed that Bubble Day should be integrated into our present projects as much as possible, it is still require extra time, labour and money. After all, Bubble Day was not a formal project with contract.

[2]Plus I and other colleagues totally contributed 60 mall pots.

[3] Due to the time limit, we were not able to deliver a short hands-up survey. The evaluation questions included:

l Did you find today’s activities are interesting? (count hands)

l Which activity is your favorite? Why? (quote the answers)

l Did you learn more about air quality and air pollution today? (count hands) What did you learn today? (quote the answers)

l Will you complete your pledge and help to improve air quality? (count hands)

l Will you spread the word and tell your friends and family to reduce air pollution? (count hands)

[4] Cycling to school: CS4A data December 2011: 3 cyclists/197 surveyed. April 2012: 6 cyclists/ 178 surveyed

[5] Walking to school: CS4A data December 2011: 103walk /197 surveyed.  April 2012: 94walk/ 178 surveyed

[6] A lot of information about walking to school campaign can be found here: http://www.livingstreets.org.uk/walk-with-us/walk-to-school


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