While it's certainly worthwhile to use Earth Day to help students understand the importance of “going green,” it’s also crucial to encourage students to be environmentally conscious throughout the year. In this post, I will share a variety of projects and activities that my own school has implemented to become an official “green school” in Michigan. I hope you can use these ideas to help your school go green, but I am also looking forward to reading your comments and seeing how schools around the world are helping to save our planet.
1. Participate in International Walk to School Day
International Walk to School Day promotes a healthy lifestyle and encourages students and parents to think about the effects that cars have on the environment. On this day, all students pledge to walk or ride their bike to school. Since our school is in the middle of a neighborhood, this is a very realistic goal for our students. However, even if most students at your school take a bus or are driven by a parent, students can still be dropped off close to the school and walk the last half mile. The goal is for students and parents to realize that replacing car trips to school with walking or bicycling can help reduce air pollution.
You can incorporate this activity into your curriculum by asking your students to explore the question: “What impact does car transportation have on the local environment?” Some upper elementary students in our district have conducted simple air pollution experiments and analyzed the findings in the context of their own weekly trip tally, which documents their comings and goings about town by car, foot, bike, and public transportation. Students then analyze their own travel data, as well as that of the whole class, and explore strategies for reducing air pollution.
2. Start a Student-Run Recycling Club
When the teachers, students, and custodians at our school noticed the great amount of paper being thrown away every day, we knew it was time to make a change. Hill School has now been recycling its paper since the winter of 2008. Each classroom, copy room, and office has at least one recycling bin, and there are bins in the gym, music room, art room, cafeteria, and media center.
To make students active participants in the recycling process, Lora Herbert, an awesome 4th grade teacher at my school, started a student recycling club three years ago. During lunch each day, recycling club members are assigned to collect and empty the recycling bins in specific rooms. Through the use of posters, word-of-mouth, and “commercials” on our televised morning announcements, the students in this club have made the staff and students at Hill School well aware of what materials can and cannot be recycled. We are pros at recycling our construction paper, catalogs, envelopes, scrap paper, and more, thanks to our recycling club.
3. Recycle Newspapers & Magazines to Create Fabulous Art Projects
Another way to support your school’s “going green” effort is to get your art teacher involved. The art teacher at my school, Katie Hosbach, planned neat projects using entirely recycled materials.
For instance, some students created musical rumba shakers from drinkable yogurt containers donated by families in the school community. Using strips of outdated newspaper, they made a hard papier-mâché shell around the yogurt containers. Students filled the maracas with rice, beans, peas, or popcorn and decorated them with paint.
Some 2nd grade students made cityscapes out of donated magazines after looking at examples of cityscapes done by famous artists. Students understood that since they are reusing the magazines for an art project instead of using brand new construction paper, they were helping reduce the amount of paper being used and recycled, which saves energy.
4. Adopt an Endangered Animal
Our students brought in coins in order to raise money to adopt an endangered animal from the Detroit Zoo. As coins were collected, students learned about the two endangered animals they would choose from — a chimpanzee or a Grevy's zebra — on the morning announcements and through student-created PowerPoint presentations that ran on TV during lunch time in the cafeteria. After enough money was raised, each classroom voted on which animal to adopt, and the Grevy’s zebra won. Our school purchased a stuffed plush Grevy's zebra, which sits on display in the main hallway for everyone to see. The class that raised the most money chose the name for the zebra, Pablo. To adopt an endangered animal at your school, contact your local zoo or visit the World Wildlife Fund's site.
Our school hosted a solar-powered cookout last fall. Parent volunteers created solar-powered “ovens” made out of cardboard boxes, aluminum foil, and some rocks and sticks. Before the cookout, we publicized the event in the school’s weekly newsletter and on our daily morning TV announcements, explaining the idea and the process behind the solar cookout. The whole school was treated to a delicious dessert of s'mores cooked by the sun. It was a big hit and a great example of the power of natural energy. Visit Disney FamilyFun to learn how to make solar s'mores.
6. Take an Environmentally Informative Field Trip
Field trips are another great way to help your students become more environmentally conscious.
Alternative Energy Plant: If you have an alternative energy plant near your school, take a trip to learn about renewable resources. In 2009, renewable energy, from sources like the sun, wind, and water, only provided about eight percent of the energy used in the United States. However, the use of renewable fuels has begun to increase in recent years due to the high price of oil and natural gas. Visit Energy Kids to read more about renewable energy and find games, activities, and lesson plans to supplement your curriculum.
Local Landfill: If your students think that trash just disappears, then it's time for a trip to a landfill. While students are plugging their noses, teachers can point out all the items in the landfill that don't have to be there — cardboard, newspapers, old food, perfectly good-looking furniture, old computers, etc. Explain how everything gets crushed down and squished together, so that even things that would normally decompose, like food, have a hard time decomposing. If you are like me and are not ready to take an actual field trip to a landfill, you can find many videos about how landfills work by doing a Google search. For instance, I found one for kids at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources site.
Recycling Center: For a similar (and slightly less stinky) field trip, take your class on a tour of a local recycling center. Students can see firsthand how items are separated and sent off on different conveyor belts. They learn how plastics will be turned into park benches and new decks and how paper will be shredded, mashed, and processed into new paper. Alternatively, take your class on a photo tour or video tour showing where trash goes after it leaves the house. You might also visit Recycle City, a fun, interactive Web site to help your students learn more about recycling and protecting our environment.
Organic Farm: Most students do not grow any vegetables at home and do not raise their own animals, so going to a farm is a real eye-opener. They can see where the eggs really come from, and that it's not the grocery store. Workers at the farm can show them how the carrots grow underground, and are pulled up, cleaned, and cut up. Most farms also have a u-pick-fruit area where students can pick blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries.
Last year, master composters from SOCWA came to our school to teach 4th grade students about organic composting. Equipment was brought in and students were split into groups to experience the art of making organic compost. A large bucket was filled with each group’s compost material and stored in the classroom for the remainder of the winter. Each student had an observation packet for monthly compost mixing days. In the spring, students made their last observation of their organic compost and spread it outside to help the flowers grow. (Thanks to Liz Waters, an awesome 4th grade teacher at my school, for sharing this idea.)
8. Create a Birdhouse Habitat Around Your Playground
The Wolf Cub Scout group made up of students at my school constructed birdhouses as a den project and created a birdhouse habitat around our playground. The birdhouses provide nesting space in the birds’ increasingly threatened habitat. An increased bird population is not only pleasant for the eyes and ears, but is also important to our ecosystem. Birds scavenge wastes, pollinate plants, and search for food in the garden. They help our garden habitat by eating greenflies, caterpillars, and snails: a huge benefit for the organic gardener.
9. Go Paperless
Our school is trying to reduce our use of resources by going paperless. Starting this year, our school’s weekly newsletter (and most classroom newsletters) are sent home via an email blast instead of being printed out and copied for all 334 students. Following the success of the emailed newsletter, our school started using the email blast to disseminate other information to parents, including field trip information, fan-outs, PTO meeting updates, volunteer requests, etc., saving even more paper. Also, when it is necessary to send home a hard copy of a note, only the youngest students or only one student of a family gets a copy.
10. Going “Green” Resources From Scholastic
For tons of great lessons, project ideas, and other resources to help students promote environmental awareness on Earth Day and throughout the year, see Scholastic's index of interdisciplinary activities.
Share your ideas!
Please add your comments below to share the ways that your school is going green. I look forward to hearing from you!