Tuesday, 22 May 2018

[Teacher's Stories Series]: Interview with Rebecca Pearce

Teacher’s stories about teaching environmental sustainability issues in their classes
Interview with Rebecca Pearce

What grade do you teach? What do you think your students needto learn about environmental sustainability issues?

I teach Secondary 4 Environmental Science, and we do a short unit on ecological footprint.  I think that students need to learn that many, if not most, of the resources that they use are finite, so they can identify and make environmentally responsible lifestyle choices.  It is also important for them to recognize that if all of the people in world lived the way we do in Canada, the world would quickly run out of resources like food and water. 

Could you please tell us about 1 or 2 activities that you haveused in your classroom to develop your students’ understanding andempathy about environmental issues?  How did you engage your students?

1.     We first start by having a class discussion about ecological footprint, I ask what they think it is, what factors students feel contribute to an individual’s ecological footprint, and how an ecological footprint is usually calculated.  We also discuss the concept of sustainability and what it means to them.  
2.     Students then use an online website (usually www.myfootprint.org)to calculate their environmental footprint.  Before they do this we go through all the questions that the website asks to define any terms or concepts students might be unfamiliar with. Usually they do this at home so they can ask their parents questions about things like the type of light bulbs they use, or energy efficient features their houses might have.  It’s also interesting for parents to go through this activity themselves!
3.     Students then reflect on their own footprints by answering a series of individual questions, including whether they think their own footprint is sustainable, what they can do to reduce the size of their footprint, and how the repercussions of large ecological footprints relate to the concept of sustainability. 
4.     Finally, as a class we examine everyone’s footprint by making a bar graph distribution of everyone’s results, calculating the average ecological footprint of the class, and then extrapolating this to all of Canada.  
5.     Sometimes we also compare the average Canadian footprint with that of developing countries.  

 What was your students’ response?  How did you assess their learning?

Students usually find these activities interesting, surprising and relevant.  Some students are already very aware of sustainability and the choices they make that can have a positive environmental impact, such as taking the metro instead of driving, bringing reusable water bottles to school, turning out lights when they leave a room.  There are other things they are unaware of.  

With respect to assessment, this varies year to year.  Sometimes I will formatively assess students’ answers to the analysis of their ecological footprint using a rubric, sometimes we might have a short quiz or test that uses deeper-thinking questions in order to evaluate their understanding of ecological footprints.  This year I might have students choose one thing they can in their day-to-day lives do to reduce their ecological footprint and explain their choice through the lens of sustainability.  

Interviewee: Sahar Fazeli, PhD Candidate, DISE, McGill University

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

[Teacher's Stories Series]: Interview with Heather Mcpherson

Teacher’s stories about teaching environmental sustainability issues in their class
Interview with Heather Mcpherson

What grade do you teach? What do you think your students needto learn about environmental sustainability issues?

I teach grade 10 and 11 Science. So I teach grade 10 the regular program and the enrich program. And one of the main focuses of the grade 10 program is the environment. So, lot of the topics that I teach or the way I teach, everything comes back to the environment. So we teach things like global warming, waste reduction, the over use of land fields like how you use material and why it is important to reduce your usage of materials. We look at environmental issues like eutrophication and what we can do to stop eutrophication. We look at the effects of overpopulation and how that’s hard on the planet and what are some of the options to feed a hungry planet, how to be more efficient in your agricultural techniques.
Every theme I do is related back to the environment. So there is probably way more, those are just what comes to my mind right now. Oh we did one the water usage, like the global water crisis, the shortage of water, we looked at that as a global issue. And when I do all that its all tide to the real science concept so they need like “concentration parts in million” or material science, stuff like that. I have bundled everything into the environment rather than teach a bunch of unrelated science facts.  

Could you please tell us about 1 or 2 activities that you haveused in your classroom to develop your students’ understanding andempathy about environmental issues?  How did you engage your students?

The unit I just finished teaching was about material science which is remarkably boring. Some we learn about composites, and all the different woods, alloys and metals …its really dull. So instead of just teaching material science, I link it to the environment. So I’d start of the whole unit by showing them four different pictures of the great Pacific gyre, where all the waste is concentrated in the Pacific Ocean.  So there is pictures of sea birds strangling in plastic or sea turtles that are dying as they got plastic bag everywhere or it is a really good one of the little boy in a boat surrounded by micro pieces of plastic.

So they look at that and they realize that we got a problem in here. And all the plastics that we are using end up somewhere. We talk about why they use plastic water bottles which I have told them their *abomination*. So we go over the fact that people are just over using plastic and other materials. In that same unit, I did a whole section on ecological footprints with an online survey which was in a very easy reading level and they realized … Like it is a whole series of questions and they get a print out at the end, of how many worlds that they require to live the way they do.  

And they are horrified and some of them were five worlds but some might go up to nine.
You know, because of air-conditioners and how is everybody drives in SUV and it goes on and on. So we look at these issues. That was just something which I just finished now. But inside it was all about material science. But it was how to use materials, how we harvest certain materials, where they come form and how we dispose of them and what are ethical ways to dispose of your garbage. 

The unit before was on eutrophication. So, I start of showing them the story of like Winnipeg which is undergoing huge eutrophication problems because it is very shallow like, and it’s the tenth largest lake in the world and at summer time you might have 75% covered in blue green algae. So its disgusting. 
And then we look at all the fertilizers, the things that people are doing that end up in the water that cause eutrophication and then rather than doing a boring lab on moles per liter, I get them to make cleaning solutions, and they get their choice of any solution they want, so I put up baking soda, salt, borax… all sorts of solids and I give them volumetric flasks and I say you all have to make 0.2 mole per liter solution and I put grease on the windows and then they have to clean the windows comparing their homemade solution with Windex. And then linking it back to the phosphides and cleaning solutions. So its moles per liter and they learn all polyatomic ions but they are doing mostly the environment. 

The next section that I am doing right now and testing them on tomorrow is how to improve the heat efficiency of your home. So we do experiments with different kinds of insulation and how they hold heat just using 
Q = m C DT    
The whole point is to get the to use the Q = m C DT    

So they do labs on that. We look at different types of insulation.
Next one there is an acid spill somewhere in the environment somewhere in the Northern Quebec and we have to look at ways to clean up the acid spill and they learn about neutralization and learn about PH and all sort of other stuff and that. So everything is linked back to the environment.

The other thing I do which is a lot of fun, I love my job. I take them to New Brunswick every other year, I take 35 kids to New Brunswick and we do Marine biology and we look at the marine biodiversity in the bay of Fundy and then alternating years we do twelve days in Costa Rica, and that one we are looking at environmental sustainability, but we are also looking at populations and some of the geo political issues happen in different countries. How different countries relate to some of these issues. How people in Costa Rica have lower Carbon footprints. 

So the whole focus of the Costa Rica trip is also sustainable living and sustainable development. How people have a lower carbon footprint is just because in a country where they are not using so much stuff, and we do thing on the trip that they are not allowed to use plastic water bottle, they have to bring refillable bottles. We don’t allow them to drink soft drinks, we don’t allow them to eat beef because they are cutting down the rainforest. So we go through this whole ethical for twelve days of you know, there is choices… there is ethical choices you make about how you treat the planet. 
It is good for me. I love going to Costa Rica.

What was your students’ response?  How did you assess their learning?

There are all sorts of different assessments. If they do a project, I might do a thing per share explain what they’ve learned. I don’t like kids standing in front of the class because most of them find it very unsettling. So we will walk around and they will talk about what they have done so there is a lot dialogue happening. Some of the projects are group work so there is conversation, I walk around the room there is formative evaluation. 

Every section has summative evaluation as well. 

For the Costa Rica trip, I have them the last day of the twelve day, we were in the cloud forest, so way above the treeline, we are out of the tropics and we are in farm. We are the only people on top of the mountain and I tell them you have to go alone for an hour and you write this little reflection of piece and you write down what you have learned on this trip. 

So then we can see how they absorbed and how they gained from the experience. And then there is lab reports whenever there is lab, like the moles per liter with the eutrophication. They have to write a lab report, but then, part of the lab report is the reflection on you know, the phosphates that we put in our cleaning stuff causes eutrophication. We’ve got to use less of this and the advantages to home cleaning products. 

Interviewee: Sahar Fazeli, PhD Candidate, DISE, McGill University

Friday, 11 May 2018

[Teacher's Stories Series]: Interview with Harini Narayanan

Teacher’s stories about teaching environmental sustainability issues in their classes
Interview with Harini Narayanan

What grade do you teach? What do you think your students needto learn about environmental sustainability issues?

I was teaching grade 8 and grade 9. So literally the high school students. 
As you know the whole world is running behind environmental sustainability today And of course the problem is diplomatic changes that we have today. For example, the tsunami we had back in India or still the diplomacy changes in Africa and all over the globe. I think we abused the mother nature to the core and now we are facing the consequences.
Thus, I think the environmental sustainability has to be given to kids and they have to know what is the concept? why are we learning that? and then how does learning environmental sustainability will allow us to take care of our environment?
 So, having all those components into the conversation, I believe and I strongly recommend that we have to start little by little, just give the students a spoon of knowledge about the environment, and not only in high school but from middle or even the primary school.Then when they reach to high school, give them the exact picture about what is happening in the whole world. Why should we take care of the mother of nature, why we should take care of the environment and how we do that? 
So, the foundation has to be laying back strong saying that we have to do something for environmental sustainability

Could you please tell us about 1 or 2 activities that you haveused in your classroom to develop your students’ understanding andempathy about environmental issues?  How did you engage your students?

I was working in a school in Ethiopia. It was founded by a funding Center coming all the way from United States and we didn't have enough money to do some kind of fancy sustainability environmental activities, but we still be able to do some activities.
The school and residences were all in one campus and people who were living there, they accumulate the kitchen waste in one corner of the building so we had lots of kitchen waste. So after sometime the whole campus used to smell.

As a science teacher working there, one day when I was walking to the class I thought that we have to do something about this smell.

So in the class I asked my students: “what would you like to do with this? how do you think you could deal with this issue?”.

Then, it was a bunch of students who came off and said: “why don't we convert them into a compost?”

I fell so happy when they came up with this idea and I said: “Wow!! this is something great. Now sit down and let's write the schedule and let me know what you want to do exactly about it.”
 After couple of days, they came up with a nice schedule. I can say that the whole research was initiated by them and I just facilitated the idea. I never went with them, I never sat with them to do the whole thing. So they just went to the internet, they browsed and they found the way to make compost. They came up with the whole process andthey said: “we will split the mask and then we'll make the different holes and will make sandwiches of waste and soil.”
Ethiopia has a very rich soil itself. So, they made sandwich of waste and soil and they used to water them on a regular and exact basis. They took care of it and after a week the compost was good and ready.

They were happy, I was very happy and also the whole school was happy because we didn't have the smell anymore and that was the main reason and the main idea and it was a major goal for me to get rid of the mass of waste and the children were able to make handmade compost and it was so exciting. We used the compost for the plants in the same campus. We had a couple of plants in the campus ‘garden such as roses and vegetables and we started to use this compost for them which was very practical and nice.

What was your students’ response?  How did you assess their learning?

I Think I have talked about my students’ response in detail in the previous question but regarding the assessment of their learning I can saythat I started involving their actions into their academics. 
I decided to mark that as a project and I started evaluating them on that. I think it has motivated them to do much more because they got points and they needed that points and it was the rewarding system. 

Also the school coordinator was so sweet and kind enough to make a notable work for these students in that the students. So, on school closing day when they used to have celebrations he used to reward the students who were involved in this project with a certificate and I can say this made the students very happy.

Interviewee: Sahar Fazeli, PhD Candidate, DISE, McGill University

Monday, 9 April 2018

[Teacher's Stories Series]: Interview with Hadi

Teacher’s stories about teaching environmental sustainability issues in their classes
Interview with Hadi

What grade do you teach? What do you think your students need to learn about environmental issues or environmental sustainability issues?

I teach grade 8. As researchers believe, the best way to teach something to a society is to give it to the people when they are a child. So, I believe if we want to have a better future and have a more sustainable environment, we need to give the knowledge to our kids. We have to plant the seed of knowledge in early ages and then grow it step by step. I do believe that environmental issues must be taught to kids if we want to save our planet for the next generations.

Could you please tell us about 1 or 2 activities that you have used in your classroom to develop your students’ understanding and empathy about environmental issues?  How did you engage your students?

 Okay… one of the activities that I really like and I repeat it every year in my class is asking children to pay attention to the electricity and water bills in their houses and try to reduce the cost by doing some simple acts of sustainable consumption.

 Normally, at the beginning of the year, I ask my students to bring the previous 1 or 2 water and electricity bills from their house to our class. Then, we watch some movies about producing electricity and its process and also video clips about the shortage of water in the world.

After that, we look at the bills together and discuss the possibilities to reduce the water and electricity consumption in our lives. It is like brainstorming and to be honest, sometimes I have to listen to very creative and funny ways indeed. It is somehow fun beside learning things in class. And I like this way much more than the serious teaching styles.

Then, students make a small brochure out of their new findings of water and electricity, and we print it out for the special session with their parents. 

We organize a session with the presence of students and at least one of their parents for one evening and we distribute our brochures among parents. In this session, I ask parents to contribute to our project with their kids. We stipulate if the kids could help reducing the next 5 bills significantly by cutting the unnecessary usage, then with the saved money they can buy one thing that they need or like to have (Of course with their parents’ consultation).
Believe me, I am doing this for 5 years and I saw the results with my own eyes. The students engage in this project very seriously and they helped to decrease the water and electricity bills in the family significantly.

What was your students’ response?  How did you assess their learning?

I think I have already answered this question in the previous one. But I should say I see the happiness and pride in their eyes when they feel they were that much effective for their families and also for the planet. The very positive point of this experience for the kids is that they will get used to consuming water and electricity in an optimum way after 5-6 months and this could be established in them as a habit then. For assessing their learning, normally I give them a certificate for this project and also I will apply some extra marks on their final mark.

Interviewee: Sahar Fazeli, PhD Candidate, DISE, McGill University

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Innovative Ideas and Cutting-edge Technology to Address Environmental Issues

Dear Educators,
We hope that you will explore these ideas and share them with your students to raise their awareness of environmental challenges and some innovative technologies that have been created to promote sustainable practices. 

Edible spoons: Plastic utensils can remain in the environment for a long time and they contain toxic chemicals which could be harmful for human and other organisms. So, using the cutlery which can be edible, biodegradable and vegan could be a fantastic alternative to protect our environment. An Indian couple invented a strategy to make edible spoons from sorghum, rice and wheat.

Edible water bottles: A large number of people all over the world drink mineral water from plastic bottles. It seems that about 50% of the plastic in our environment comes from water bottles. In this video you can see an innovative edible water bottle which is an amazing idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KppS7LRbybw

Floating ocean trash can: Plastic pollution in water bodies is a very serious issue nowadays which has adversely affected the aquatic life. Two Australian inventors designed a trash can which can float in water and collect the trash from the water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON1QW4e72pg

COcatchers: CO2 has been one of the most important air pollutants for decades. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have invented a technology to capture COefficiently. This technology is in the form of small blue capsules which can capture CO2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SjR3QZxH8s

PaveGen: PaveGen has invented a technology to turn kinetic energy into renewable electricity.  As they explained this technology, “The PaveGen technology is a multifunctional custom flooring system. As people step on the tiles, their weight causes electromagnetic induction generators to vertically displace, which results in a rotatory motion that generates off-grid electricity.”  Please go to the following website to learn about their project. http://www.pavegen.com/

Floating food forest: “Swale” is the name of a floating food forest in New York with a large number of edible plant varieties that teaches children about the importance of sustainability and building land stewardship.” http://mashable.com/2017/06/27/floating-food-forest-teaching-kids-about-sustainability/#jtXuJ7yO9kqY


Education for Sustainability (Useful websites): Here you can find a list of websites which contain resources for teaching sustainability in schools.  This website has been developed by the AESA research project, Education for Sustainability and the Australian Curriculum.

Getting started with sustainability in schools: You can find different resources on this website such as case studies, curriculum units, classroom activities and also community activities for teaching the values of sustainability to children and to give them essential skills to promote sustainability. http://www.sustainabilityinschools.edu.au/

Green Schools Alliance: You can join this website and use the tools and resources to teach sustainability concepts in your classrooms.  You can also collaborate with other sustainability champions on this site. http://www.greenschoolsalliance.org/home

Green Education Foundation: Green Education Foundation is a non-profit organization which provides teachers and students with different resources, models and curriculum resources to develop a sustianble future through teaching and learning. http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/

Be The Change: Be The Change is a Canadian charity established in 2005. They support sustainability related initiatives in education and community setting . They provide innovative cross curricular resources, professional development workshops and ideas for sustainability education. http://www.bethechangeearthalliance.org/

Sustainability Lesson Plans for Primary Schools: In this small pdf you can find sample lesson plans for teaching environmental issues and developing concrete action plans to reduce “individual environmental footprint”https://au.fsc.org/preview.middle-3-4-lesson-plans.a-1124.pdf

Learn for Life: This website contains multiple curriculum materials and activities for teachers to use in their classes to teach about environment and sustainability and also various resources for students classified by topics in the area of environment. https://www.coolaustralia.org/

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Sustainability and Biodiversity

Author: Dr. Ken Elliott 

This winter McGill University hosted their annual public lecture series called "MiniScience" in which  faculty members with extensive experience deliver fascinating in depth presentations  - this year on issues of sustainability. Topics included:
Slash and Burn agriculture in Amazonia,
Water in the Andes
Doing chemistry with less
Development in China
Global food security
Urban transport 

Here are some of my reflections after listening to a lecture presented by Prof. Andy Gonzalez, titled “Biodiversity Change and Sustainability in the Anthropocene" - a look at the state of the planet in terms of the impact of humans on it.  Prof. Gonzalez highlighted the interconnectedness of the many different types of actions by humans on many different aspects of nature:  The deforestation of so many regions of the world, the elimination of habitats of so many species of plants and animals, the pollution of air and water on such a vast scale, and the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.  He pointed out that, up to the industrialization of the world, it has been natural factors that have caused the many changes on the planet over the past millions (billions) of years.  These changes include: climate warming and cooling, mass extinctions of animal and plant species, ice ages, changes in geological structures - mountains, rivers, coastal    areas- and changes in habitats for flora and fauna to name but a few.  They used to be the result of natural phenomena like volcanoes, catastrophes like meteor collisions, and other naturally occurring variations. 

Over the past few hundred years, however, there has been an accelerating effect of the Anthropocene on our natural world.  In other words, more and more, it is humans that are causing these changes.  Most climate scientists agree now that the climate is warming at an alarming rate (although there is not universal agreement about the rate of change) and that this is a direct result of the rapid increase of the amount of greenhouse gases (especially CO2) from industrial processes and combustion from different forms of transportation.  With the exponential growth in the human population, land use has been taken from its natural purpose and been turned over to human uses like housing, roads, farming, urbanization.  The habitats of many species of animals and plants have been destroyed by human activity, driving the natural inhabitants out or, worse still, causing their extinction.  There have been 5 naturally-caused mass extinctions documented by scientists over the geological history of the earth.  A mass extinction is defined as the loss of 70% of all species.  Dr. Gonzalez postulates that we are at the beginning of a 6th - and this time it is being caused by human activity. 

In an article, cited by Dr. Gonzalez, which cites hundreds of research articles on the Anthropocene in the Journal Nature, Cardinale et al (2012) emphasize the ecological damage that humans are now inflicting on the fragile earth's ecosystems. "The most unique feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity. Approximately 9 million types of plants, animals, protists and fungi inhabit the Earth. So, too, do 7 billion people. Two decades ago, at the first Earth Summit, the vast majority of the world’s nations declared that human actions were dismantling the Earth’s ecosystems, eliminating genes, species and biological traits at an alarming rate. This observation led to the question of how such loss of biological diversity will alter the functioning of ecosystems and their ability to provide society with the goods and services needed to prosper."

It remains to researchers to continue to study this situation and look for solutions and to school teachers to make this topic an important part of school curricula so that we can all become part of the search for solutions.

Bradley J. Cardinale, et al., 2012, Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.  Nature 486, p 59-67.