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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005

Fostering a sense of environment

by Stewart Wilson

The environment provides a rich source of learning experiences for students. Last year when I chose to teach a Grade 3 class for the first time, after working with intermediate students for most of my career, I was excited because I realized that the primary program offers more flexibility and freedom to incorporate many of the ideas I had developed over the years on the environment. I planned to foster a sense of environmental awareness and stewardship among my students by engaging them in a variety of meaningful activities, including action projects in and around the school and in the community.

Developing environmental awareness and sense of place
Many schools have green spaces in their playing field, which are ideal for raising students’ environmental awareness and sense of place. We are also fortunate to have a wetland within walking distance where students can learn about their environment. Our first field trip in September familiarized students with the wetland and heightened their sensory awareness through a variety of activities.

A visit in October highlighted changes in seasons as fall replaced summer. In December, the ice on the lake was thick enough to support our weight. It was a novel experience for some. In the spring, they learned about the native plants of the area and how native people used them. One wet afternoon in June, we explored where the runoff from the storm drains empties into the lake.

Involving students in action projects
Students add to their sense of environmental awareness and become more involved in developing an environmental stewardship ethic when they are engaged in meaningful action projects. Last year, my students were involved in a variety of action projects, some lasting for a few days, and some all year.

Getting your hands dirty working with garbage
Teaching about the three Rs is one of the best ways to get young children involved in caring for the environment. We began with garbage, which I introduced with Stephen Cosgrove’s, Bangalee. When I reached the climax of the story, students were totally involved, busy collecting the garbage I dumped because the garbage-eating Grunk was on its way. Van Allsberg’s, Just A Dream, is full of thought-provoking drawings about how things might turn out if we do not care for our planet. In April, students thoroughly enjoyed reciting We Are Plooters by Jack Prelutsky. For a class who had been actively involved in cleaning up the environment, it gave them a chance to have fun, as they tossed garbage into the air at the school assembly.

When they examined the class garbage, students pointed out items that could have been reused or recycled. This prompted a visit to the recycling centre and the regional landfill. It proved to be one of the most powerful field trips, as we watched piles of garbage being covered in layers of soil and learned that it would remain like that forever. It made everyone realize why we should reduce, reuse, and recycle. Later students learned that garbage nearly doubles over the Christmas holidays. I helped the class compose and design a newsletter, which every student signed. Then we delivered over 600 newsletters, Our Christmas Wish, to every house in our school zone.

When students were invited to make a display of their environmental projects on Earth Day, April 22, students came up with ideas for "How To Make Every Day Earth Day," which they put into another newsletter and distributed at the mall. Once students became involved in the Yellow Fish Road Program in May/June, they learned that the yellow fish sign beside storm drains indicates that any runoff is untreated before it empties into our local wetland or the creek. They assisted in writing and delivering the Yellow Fish News.

Cleaning up Joseph Creek and making a presentation to city council
In October, the students cleaned up Joseph Creek near a local mall. Both students and volunteer parents were shocked at the garbage. Students wrote letters to the local newspaper, which were published. Following a second clean up in March, we read Garbage Creek, by W. D Valgardson, about children who cleaned up a creek, and renamed it Garbage Creek because of all the garbage. They put up "No Littering" signs to stop people littering. As my students wanted to do something similar, I wrote to city council detailing our proposal. When we were invited to make a presentation to council in April, 14 students volunteered to assist me. Council members were very enthusiastic about their idea and complimented them on their excellent presentation. At my request, council also agreed to assist with installing the signs. I secured funding to pay for 20 signs to be made with the words "Take Pride" and "Keep Clean" routered on opposite sides of 10’ 4"x4" posts and yellow fish on the remaining two sides symbolizing a healthy creek. Students helped to paint the signs and were understandably proud of the work they had done. Students also participated in a third clean up of the creek in the last week of June.

During a busy year my Grade 3 students also helped to organize our school-wide Terry Fox Penny Drive for cancer research in September. They spearheaded raising funds for UNICEF, and learned about the plight of children in Third World countries. They also promoted Air Quality Awareness and their posters were displayed at a local mall. In January, they supported a school-wide appeal to raise funds for the tsunami relief. They also assisted the RCMP with a Speedwatch to raise awareness about driving carefully in our school zone. They cleaned up more garbage with "Pitch In" on Earth Day. They planted pine trees in May and learned about the positive effects of forest fires in sustaining biodiversity. They also helped to prepare, plant, and maintain a native garden in our school grounds and learned the names of plants. In June, they mentored a Grade 4 class from a neighbouring school teaching them about our local creek and the importance of water through several engaging activities.

Teaching Grade 3 is an unforgettable experience and it also gave me an opportunity to make the environment a meaningful focus for a special group of students, who developed environmental awareness and an active stewardship ethic during the year and began to realize that each individual can make a difference in the world.

Stewart Wilson teaches at Gordon Terrace Elementary School, Cranbrook. lswilson@shaw.ca

To learn more about some of the students’ environmental projects, log on to the CBEEN web site at www.cbeen.org under Special Feature.

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