High School Level
Making a Positive Impact on the Environment
Mr. Adams is an 11th grade science teacher in Washington, D.C. The city has a large and very popular Earth Day celebration every April, and Mr. Adams wanted his students to get involved in a meaningful way. After reviewing his curriculum objectives for the coming year, Mr. Adams decided to focus a unit in early spring on projects that included research, forming conclusions and taking action to help students understand how their actions have an effect on the environment – in both a negative and positive way.
After reviewing the lessons in this curriculum-based toolkit, Mr. Adams shared with his principal and department chair his intentions to do a Roots & Shoots service campaign during the months of April and May. Mr. Adams then created the following timeline for his campaign.
Introduce the Roots & Shoots service learning project and subsequent campaign to students. Tell the students that, beginning in March, they would start a project that would have an impact on their entire school – and hopefully the community at large. He explained that the students would be examining how their personal choices can have both a positive and negative effect on the environment, and that over the course of the campaign they would be examining those choices in order to better understand their impact as consumers. He asked the students to keep track of the products they purchase and discard over the course of the next 8 weeks and track those items in an Excel spreadsheet.
Send home letters to parents introducing the Roots & Shoots campaign.
Determine the end date for the campaign: April 21 – the day before the Earth Day celebration in Washington D.C.
For one week, Mr. Adams asked the students to keep their trash from any food/snacks eaten outside of their homes, and to bring it to school and dispose of it in specially-marked trash cans in the classroom. This meant that the students kept paper coffee cups, food wrapping from fast food restaurants, candy bar wrappers, plastic water bottles, glass juice bottles, potato chip bags, soda cans, disposable trays from the cafeteria and much, much more. The students carried plastic shopping bags to store their trash, and then laughed at each other as they disposed of the trash in the classroom. They were amazed at the amount of trash that they collected on just one day – let alone as a class by the end of the week.
From March 8 – 18, Mr. Adams completed the Building Knowledge lesson. With the students, Mr. Adams bagged up all of the trash in plastic bags and used a scale from the nurse’s office to weigh each bag, assigning one student to tally the total weight. In total, the class had consumed over 150 pounds of trash in 5 days.
Mr. Adams then split the class into groups of 3 students per group and assigned each group to predict the total amount of trash consumed in 5 days by all 11th graders in the school, by the entire student body, by every high school in the district, if they collected trash for an entire month, etc. Once the students had completed the math, they took turns presenting their predictions to the class.
Using the Excel spreadsheets that students created during the months of January and February, Mr. Adams asked each student to determine their three most used products, then to pick one of those products for the research portion of the project. Because many of the students had listed food and clothes as the most purchased products, he allowed them to also choose a favorite product so that there would be a variety of products in the experiment. Favorite products were video gaming systems, cell phones, laptop computers, cosmetic products and even a car.
He then assigned the students a research assignment for their product. Students were asked to first predict the answers to the following questions:
Where is the product manufactured?
What natural resources are used to manufacture this product?
How is this product transported from the manufacturer to the store where the student bought it?
How long will this product be in a landfill after it is thrown away?
What communities are negatively impacted by this product?
Students then took turns presenting their predictions to the class.
Mr. Adams then assigned the students to research the answers to those questions and write their answers in a short (2-3 page) report. Students were given four days to complete this assignment.
Students took turns presenting their findings to the class, and reports were posted around the classroom so that they could be read by other students throughout the month.
As part of the Building Compassion lesson, Mr. Adams and his students spent one class period watching several videos about global warming and then discussing the videos.
They then chose one product (a cellular phone) and talked about how it was manufactured, where it was manufactured, the natural resources that went into manufacturing it and how it was packaged and shipped to the United States for purchase. As a class, the students discussed the impact that this one phone had on the environment, and then the number of cell phones that are manufactured in similar conditions every day and every year – weighing the impact on the environment. The class then discussed how the product is disposed of. Since several of his students had listed cell phones on their list of “throw away” items during the months of January and February, he asked if any of the students had recycled the phones. If not, how long did they think those phones would remain in a landfill? Are there any materials in the phones that could possibly be dangerous to the land as they decompose?
Mr. Adams told the class that they would be doing an exercise similar to the one done during the last class, where they thought about the environmental impact of a consumer product. Each student was asked to pick one product from their Excel spreadsheet and research that product. The findings would then be used to create a presentation and display that would be shared with the entire school during a “green” science fair just prior to Earth Day.
The students were asked to research:
Consumption of natural resources used to manufacture this product
Natural resources affected by the manufacturing process of this product
The impact that the manufacturing of this product has on the animal community and the human community
The environmental impact of transporting this product to market
The packaging used in the product
The average life span of the product
The environmental impact of disposing of this product
Students investigated alternatives to this product that have less of an impact on the environment and are currently on the market.
Taking Action: Mr. Adams told his students that they would be presenting their projects at a “green” science fair on April 21, the day before the big Earth Day celebration event in Washington D.C.
Mr. Adams asked a few students to create invitations, which were copied and sent home to parents, school leaders and other teachers and students at the school. Mr. Adams also invited local media to attend the science fair, and selected a couple of students to be spokespeople for the class.
Students created visual displays of what they had learned over the course of their project. The displays were three-sided: in the first section the students included information about how their product was manufactured, the second section included information about the impact that product has on the environment and the third section included information about alternative products or ways the students planned to change their consumer spending habits in order to have less of an impact on their environment. Students also created “green pledges” for their projects and asked the people who came to the science fair to sign the pledges for each product – thereby involving the community in their efforts to keep our planet healthy.
Event: April 21
The “green” science fair was held in the school cafeteria beginning with a brief welcome from Mr. Adams, and then the “spokesstudents” spent about 15 minutes introducing the concept of the Roots & Shoots project and talking about what their class, as a whole, had learned over the course of their 3 month project. Attendees were then invited to walk around the science fair and visit each student’s booth to learn about the individual projects and sign pledges to change their consumer spending habits to improve the environment. The event was attended by and covered in the local newspaper and on a local television station as part of their Earth Day story.
Curriculum Objectives and Outcomes
Over the course of his Roots & Shoots campaign, Mr. Adams met the following content standards:
Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
Career Education, Family/Consumer Sciences, Resources Management, Standard 4: Understands how knowledge and skills related to consumer resources management affects the well-being of individuals, families and society.
Civics, Standard 23: Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations.
Language Arts, Listening and Speaking, Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
Language Arts, Reading, Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
Language Arts, Writing, Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Additionally, students built self esteem as they realized their ability to have a positive impact on the environment, developed their ability to work as part of a team and improved their written and oral communication/presentation skills.