How to Incorporate Environmental Science in Your Classroom

Rodriguez-Kaitlyn_blogHi there – it’s Kaitlyn Rodriguez again.

Sustainability and conservation are both key in helping the Earth.

Lately, more than ever, it seems that companies and organizations are moving toward more “green” practices.

Solar panels and alternative energy sources are becoming more prevalent. Recycling initiatives are seen everywhere.

Schools must now start incorporating these practices into the classroom and teaching students how to protect and help the Earth—but how?

With new curriculum standards and practices being mandated, many teachers feel overwhelmed and without enough time for “extra” activities.

What some people don’t know, however, is how simple it can be to incorporate green practices into their daily curriculum and schools. Below are suggestions of what teachers can do to learn more about being eco-friendly, teaching their students about the environment, and helping their school and community.

  1. Host environmental cleanup days. Whether scheduled weekly or monthly, having cleanups at the park, beach, or even school can be simple, fun, and family-friendly activities for all to participate.
  2. Increase the emphasis of environmental concerns in the curriculum. Environmental issues can be incorporated into any grade level and subject. Besides the obvious science lessons, English lessons can involve students writing research reports on endangered species or writing persuasive letters to local officials, urging them to increase their environmental awareness. Social Studies lessons can involve looking at the timelines and history of conservation efforts and sustainable practices, while examining local and national politics regarding the environment.
    • Some organizations offer teacher resources to teach environmental awareness in the classroom. In New York State, for example, the Department of Environmental Conservation hosts a series of educator workshops that provide all attendees with a book of resources, lessons, and curriculum suggestions (dec.ny.gov/education/2035.html).
  3. Go on a field trip! Kids love getting out of the classroom. By going to nature centers or places that deal with the conservation of a particular species, you are helping to make the world more sustainable. Show your students that some people work on these initiatives all their lives, which could be something they may want to do when they get older. If traveling to the site would pose an issue, work with your building administrators on bringing the organizations to your school. A simple Google search provides myriad results for field trip ideas in each state (e.g., Kansas: www.ifamilykc.com/blog/education-learning/field-trip-ideas).
  4. Take the classroom outside. Teach a lesson outdoors to give your students the chance to get some fresh air. Let them put what they’re learning to use in their local community. Go for a nature walk and teach your class about observations and predictions. Test a science experiment outside. Bring your class to an open field and let the nature around them provide inspiration for poetry or any form of writing.
  5. Make a STEAM project assignment that involves recycled or upcycled materials. Assign your class a project over a break that involves using recycled/recyclable materials to create something new, such as a robot. Keeping a project open-ended allows students to display their creativity and interests. Here are some suggestions of activities: https://leftbraincraftbrain.com/stem-goes-green-17-upcycled-and-earth-friendly-projects-for-kids
  6. Provide students, faculty, and staff with environmental, conservation, and sustainability resources from local organizations. Providing literature on what one can do and how one can help—and what can result from one person’s efforts—can offer the motivation to get involved and become interested in these topics. Increasing the availability of such resources in each classroom also is important. Scholastic has nonfiction articles for the younger grades, and National Geographic also makes magazines and articles that students can read. Look for ways to add more nonfiction pieces to your classroom library. Here are some books you may be interested in buying for your classroom: www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl-picks/top-children-s-books-on-the-environment
  7. Start a Go Green initiative in your classroom and school. Set up recycling bins around the school. Have your students use both sides of their paper. If copies are made incorrectly, or you have extra paper, keep a scrap paper bin for students to use for projects, drafting ideas, and more. If you can afford it, or fundraise for it, buy your students metal water bottles to bring to class instead of plastic bottles. Model for the students what it means to Go Green and they will follow in your footsteps!

These are only seven ways to make your classroom and school a greener one.

If every classroom were to do at least one of these suggestions, just imagine the impact all those students could make on the world.

Tell us how you plan on incorporating sustainable practices in your classroom this year on the Educator Learning Network!

Sources

Black & Brown Face: How Representation Combats Eurocentrism in the Classroom

James Baldwin (1960), an American novelist, playwright, and activist, once said that children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

It’s easy to see how this can relate to blatant racism, but how are we as educators contributing to our students of color feeling locked out of the environment we have created?

Our students are absorbing more from what they see and feel than what they are being taught; thus, the materials we choose to use and the scholars of the discourse we share can have a profound impact on our students.

I recall reading all these amazing stories for our required reading textbooks about young White men who go on adventures in the woods, often with their dogs, or I would learn about these brilliant mathematicians and scientists who changed the world with their theories and inventions.

None of them looked like me.

The people that students of color would learn about came from recycled lectures about ancient Chinese dynasties during Lunar New Year, Latinx warriors during colonialism, or oppressed Black Americans during Jim Crow.

Consuming that type of media can be traumatizing for students of color because we see ourselves in those limited stereotypical references.

To Baldwin’s point about imitation, how could children of color imitate their elders if they did not see themselves doing miraculous things in science, music, math, and art?

Before 2008, children of color, especially Black children, were told that they could become anyone they wanted to, even the president of the United States. It was just something parents of color said but never really believed until Barack Obama was elected.

The importance of representation is buttressed in view of the record number of people of color and women candidates running for the 2020 presidency. As educators, we can offer our students a diverse set of heroes by selecting materials that are more inclusive and less Eurocentric.

Having an Inclusive Environment

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is incomplete in my view and should be adjusted to, “It takes a diverse village to raise a child.” As part of this diverse village, keep in mind that every figure you choose to share with your students will become part of their village as well; therefore, choosing solely Eurocentric figures will suggest a White supremacist approach to your teaching that would taint the safe environment you worked so hard to establish. Once you get to know your students and establish an environment that is safe and productive, you can maintain this environment by making MUSIC in classroom.

Make them the experts. As you make room for discourse in your classroom, give your students the room to speak about the topic as it relates to their background or cultural upbringing.

Use your resources. We teach groups with anywhere from 18 to 30+ people, and each one of them have unique experiences, so it might be wise to pull from who you have in your class. Scholars come from every part of this world; bringing that culture into your classroom will make that student feel seen and heard.

Support your students’ unique perspectives. Every student is an important addition to the cohort, and their feelings should be validated. Your students may be speaking from cultural perspectives that might be foreign to you, and it is important not to mischaracterize their zeal.

Involve yourself as the learner. In a student-centered classroom, discovery should be at the forefront of your lessons. Allow space for posing questions to which you do not know the answers and collaborate ideas for solutions with your students.

Combat the overuse of Eurocentrism. Your students are listening and watching very closely to the things you say and choose to share. Even when teaching a predominantly White group of students, we have the capacity as educators to use resources that are not part of the Western canon. Reflect upon the hidden curriculum you might be imposing upon your students.

As we continue to create environments that are inclusive of other cultures, we will simultaneously deconstruct the limitations of the colonial mindset and rewrite more complete narratives.

Resource

Video: “Changing the Stories We Have Inherited From Colonialism,” with Priyamvada Gopal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOnBiHHPLm4&t=13s

Collin Edouard is currently a Gates Cambridge Scholar working on a Master’s of Music in Choral Studies. He earned a BFA in Vocal Performance at The City College of New York, and an MA in Music Education at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Reference

Baldwin, J. A. (1960, July). Fifth Avenue, uptown: A letter from Harlem. Esquire.

Culturally Inclusive Celebrations: 3 Fun Alternatives To Holiday Parties

I was in my first year of teaching, and I loved decorating my classroom for the holidays. In December, with Christmas around the corner, I filled the classroom with holiday cheer. I purchased a small red and green fiberoptic tree and a Christmas tablecloth, and covered the table with wrapped gifts for the students. Christmas break approached, and I called up each student to receive his or her present. Lana’s gift sat on her desk, unopened. I asked, “Did you want to open your present?” I began to think, she must want to put it under her tree. My heart melted.

Lana came up to me after everyone had left and handed the gift back to me. I asked, “Why are you giving the gift back? Don’t you want it for your Christmas?” She replied, “Please, Ms. Evans. I am not allowed to have this present.” I was very confused. “Lana, this gift is from my heart and I could afford it, so don’t worry.” Lana shook her head and said, “Ms. Evans, I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and we don’t celebrate holidays.”

My experience was an awakening, challenging me to think about every student and the celebrations in our class. According to Berry (2010), “Because the United States has a traditionally strong Christian heritage, many communities have in the past been comfortable absorbing the holidays and traditions of that heritage” (p. 10). Our job as teachers is to ensure that everyone in our classroom feels respected as a contributor to the class environment (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2017) . Below are three ideas to consider for inclusive classrooms that have permission to celebrate holidays, specifically within the public school sector.

1. Celebrate “Character Days,” “Friendship Week,” or other school-wide festivities. Celebrating Character Week instead of Halloween avoids making students feel uncomfortable if they don’t wish to participate in Halloween celebrations.

A whole week with different themes gives students the opportunity to choose characters from favorite books, movies, or TV shows. One day can be historical characters, one day Dr. Seuss characters, one day favorite board or card game characters. The possibilities are endless. You can celebrate Friendship Week or Kindness Week instead of Valentine’s Day. Students can have secret pals, dress-up days, and a school kindness assembly. These alternatives avoid excluding students and the negative attention children may feel if they are unable to participate.

2. Celebrate seasons. Seasons are a part of science, and they involve miraculous changes that can stimulate engagement and learning throughout the year. Celebrating seasons instead of holidays is a great way to keep a positive and visually appealing classroom environment all year long.

I used a dynamic tree in my classroom that took up a massive amount of bulletin board space. In autumn, colorful leaves, acorns, pumpkins, scarecrows, and glitter were a hit. Winter had snowmen, snowflakes, and pine trees. In spring, I decorated with tissue blossoms, bunnies, flowers, and plants. Students’ projects connected directly to seasons and not the concurrent holidays.

3. Celebrate the diverse cultures of students and their families (Planning Ahead, 2016). Invite students to share what traditions and holidays they celebrate in their families. If you have a culturally diverse classroom, you should have an abundance of rich traditions to learn about. If your classroom is more homogeneous, encourage students to learn about their own ancestry or to explore the customs of a famous person’s ancestors (Lundgren & Lundy-Ponce, n.d.).

Remember that we as teachers have the power to make or break a student’s ability to succeed (“Culture in the classroom,” 2018). As I learned from my experience with Lana, discovering our students’ beliefs and customs creates the opportunity for us to celebrate with them in culturally appropriate ways. A medley of approaches can be taken to celebrate holidays; however, rendering a culturally competent and inclusive environment is imperative.

Children not only contribute to their classrooms, but also to their schools. With minority students now the majority in public schools (Hussar & Bailey, 2014), teachers must promote an understanding of various cultures and ensure that all students are represented.

Dr. Evans-Santiago is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University, Bakersfield. Her research focuses on culturally relevant pedagogy with an emphasis on LGBTQ issues in education, and on minimizing suspensions and expulsions of minority males.

This story is featured in the Winter 2018 issue of the New Teacher Advocate. If you are interested in receiving the print or digital version of this award-winning publication for preservice and new teachers, you can subscribe for less than $20 per year!

Resources
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayIdeas
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayEvent
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayLessonPlan
http://bit.ly/CulturallyResponsiveInstruction

References
– Berry, D. R. (2010). A not so merry Christmas: Dilemma for elementary school leaders. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(1), 10–13. Https://doi.org/10.1080/ 00228958.2010.10516553
– Culture in the classroom. (2018). [Teaching Tolerance website]. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance. org/culture-classroom
– Hussar, W. J., & Bailey, T. M. (2014). Projections of education statistics to 2022 (NCES 2014-051). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
– Lundgren, C., & Lundy-Ponce, G. (n.d.). Culturally responsive instruction for holiday and religious celebrations. Retrieved from http://www.Colorincolorado.org/article/culturally-responsiveinstruction- holiday-and-religious-celebrations
– National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2017). Anti-bias education: Holidays. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/content/ anti-bias-guide-holidays/december-holidays
– Planning ahead: December holidays in an inclusive classroom. (2016). Curriculum Review, 56(3), 11.

Host an Hour of Code Event in Six Steps

Dr. Megan Nickels

Drs. Megan Nickels and Laurie O. Campbell are Assistant Professors of STEM Education in the College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida.

The push to expose today’s students to computer science activities has quickly become a global priority, with high visibility events, such as the Hour of Code (this year: December 3–9, 2018), reaching nearly 400 million students since its 2013 launch.

Dr. Laurie Campbell

In addition to the many responsibilities you face as a new teacher, you are now expected to facilitate a subject for which you may have had little experience. Very likely, you may wonder: How can I plan to successfully implement computer science activities in my classroom?

The easiest entry into teaching computer science is to host an Hour of Code event. The Hour of Code is an annual event held each December during Computer Science Education Week that invites students of all ages to learn the basics of computer science through highly engaging tutorials on an array of themes such as Angry Birds, Star Wars, and Disney’s Moana. During the one-hour event, your students will use computers, tablets, or other devices to complete the tutorials using Blockly, the drag-and-drop programming language (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Getting Started

Begin planning for your Hour of Code event by trying a tutorial yourself. Visit the Disney-sponsored Hour of Code to try a tutorial. Once you have the opportunity to try one or more tutorials, you can decide which tutorial will best motivate and engage students during your event. With your chosen tutorial in mind, follow these steps to ensure a successful Hour of Code event.

  1. Plan the learning configuration that will meet the needs of your students.

*Tip- Groups of 2–3 work well for young children in grades K–5. Older students are more successful with 1–1 technology.

  1. Decide what devices your students will use and make arrangements to have them available during your event.
  2. Schedule a specific time for your event and let students know that they are part of a global initiative to learn how to code their world.
  3. Garner excitement by introducing famous coders like supermodel, Karlie Kloss, or NBA basketball player Chris Bosh through Hour of Code videos.
  4. Finally, give the students an opportunity to discover drag-and-drop coding at your first Hour of Code event!
  5. Once the students have completed the tutorial, debrief with them about their experience and introduce them to more advanced coding tutorials at code.org or other websites such as Scratch and Code Avengers.

General Tips

  • Provide children with information or explanation about the programming blocks or procedures specific to the task. Use phrases such as You can expect … You will see …
  • Provide an advanced organizer for students who may have trouble remembering or sequencing programming blocks.
  • Provide strategy cues for the end of tutorial challenges.

Resource

Nickels, M. (2016, June 27). How do we prepare teachers to teach coding? Retrieved from http://gettingsmart.com/2016/06/prepare-teachers-teach-coding/