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

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