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