The Smokers’ Project

One of our first projects at Het Wagenings Lyceum 1972/73

The Smokers’ Project was a project I did with Martin Kindt in second grade Atheneum A2a in the school year of 1972/73. It all began when I had the pupils measure their lung volume by blowing through water in a tank under a large glass bell jar. I had told them during my lessons on respiration that their lung capacity would shrink if they started smoking! To which they called out indignantly that it wasn’t true because Mr Kok, their gym teacher smoked like a chimney and always boasted that his lung volume was 6 liters. I counteracted by saying 6 liters was not much for such a huge man, but it didn’t help. OK, I said, let’s research it. Of course, the first thing they wanted to do was measure the lung volume of all the other teachers and they fetched Martin Kindt first of all. He had a much smaller lung volume than Kok, I don’t quite remember how many liters, but … he didn’t smoke! Told you so, they said, smoking has nothing to do with it! Then I suggested we research it thoroughly with as many smokers and non-smokers as possible and then we had to measure the height and weight of everyone as well. I brought a set of scales from home and we put a measuring tape against the wall and we were ready to start measuring. But how to get passers-by into the school? Make cups of coffee and offer them on a tray to people outside, they said, which can be made in the biology lab because it had gas and water. And that’s how they lured around 27 smokers and just as many non-smokers into school and they were all questioned about their smoking habits and other habits, measured and weighed. Martin Kindt suggested he join in too and took on the mathematic side of the project. That was very important to me because he had a lot of authority in school and it gave me the feeling that the whole enterprise was worthwhile. I still remember two things he said. That the pupils were so hard at work with their calculations that they did not notice the bell! And that the mathematical part that he did with them in this way was actually only supposed to be done in fourth grade. And for the smokers among you: the result was that the lung volume of smokers was indeed less than that of non-smokers, but the difference was smaller than I had hoped! Of course, that’s after we had corrected the results with regard to length and weight. You can see how the development of project education continued after that on the websites or And how a number of us are currently involved in modernizing the methods we developed back then, so that they can be used by the education reformers of today. One of the problems which we encountered in this open teaching method is that reporting has to comply with very specific requirements so that follow up research can be done. That is why we made a ‘slide sound image’ of the reporting by pupils and that has now been updated and put on a DVD and can be ordered via the website. Amsterdam, May 2008 Anne-Ruth Wertheim