Friday, October 27, 2006

Operation Environmental Respect

Operation Environment Respect could link Math and Science to Civic Responsibility, to Service (by students) to their school and their Community, to building and maintaining a strong democracy, and building civic pride throughout America.

PRELIMINARY IDEAS AND INITIAL PROPOSAL for the possible creation of a Science and Math, school-based program, OPERATION ENVIRONMENTAL RESPECT, that:

• allows students to learn about Science and Math through the study of the environment
• engages students in early critical thinking and problem solving
• leads to students acting locally to help their community make good decisions consistent with maintaining a sustainable, healthy, safe, environment for their own and future generations
• creates the platform for student engagement in hands-on Service Learning projects that can help their school and their community act in accordance with appropriate sustainable environmental policies
• engages children and youth in early thinking and activities that lead to good citizenship and active involvement in later life in sustaining and participating in our democracy

- OR could be an important portion of the long-term strategy of America’s environmental awareness and its protecting its resources and, in turn, the resources of the planet. Although the immediate issues associated with clean air, clean water, global warming, fossil fuel dependence, toxic waste etc are in a state of crisis, future generations need to be alert to ongoing emergent needs of America and the world, and prepared to advocate for sane and sustainable policies that can nurture the environment and prevent future escalation of problems of all sorts, including some that cannot be easily be imagined at this time.

- OR is already training young people to take note of the people around them and take action to make the world a better place in terms of respect for other people, acceptance of differences, adoption of peaceful means for interpersonal conflict resolution etc.

In this way, OR provides a necessary link to “interpersonal” civic responsibility. These concepts of OR can readily extend to students taking note of the environment around them, studying science curricula connected to the environment, and then bringing such awareness to active involvement in simple projects that help their community maintain a clean neighborhood, deter the spread of infectious diseases, assure proper waste disposal, proper drinking water etc. Operation Environment Respect can link Math and Science to Civic Responsibility, to Service to the Community, to building and maintaining a strong democracy, and civic pride in America.

- While you can teach the science of global warming and environmental change to adults, you can't easily inculcate new habits of civic responsibility in them. Not so with students. Early enough education of this sort, including respect on any number of levels, is eagerly learned by students who consider an opportunity to help an empowerment of themselves -- if, and this is a big if, they are reached early enough, before social acceptability of passive aggressive cynicism sets in, and if, and this is another big if, they are engaged as partners with adults, teachers, administrators etc, rather than as pawns to be instructed and forced into unwilling cooperation. In other words, respect needs to be taught, on all levels in an all ways through inspiration and through the modeling respect itself, by the one teaching it.

- OR is already in thousands of schools nation-wide and internationally.
Many of these schools have introduced the DLAM curriculum and are looking for
next steps. Operation Environmental Respect is a logical and important next
step. Easy access to (what we hope will be) free curricular materials by schools who have previously adopted DLAM, would provide a launching pad and a “buzz” that could spread rapidly and (this is very important) create an environment in schools that focuses on Science, increases literacy, engages students through inspiration and empowerment, and…… elevates their academic achievements.

THAT is important in terms of generating interest from potential funding by Science-based corporations who are eager to find graduates of schools, future employees, who not only have a strong science and math interest and background, but interact with a respectful attitude, a keen and active sense of social responsibility, and social skills to match. .

- The current Don't Laugh At Me curriculum ties in to music and other creative arts, to English and creative writing, and to history and social studies. Through OER, students could easily connect respect to math and science as well.

- OER would not be politically partisan in any way. It would intentionally need to avoid taking sides, but it would allow students to come to their own conclusion and give them the opportunity to act on them. Such is the nature of a democracy, and OER could serve and nurture democracy in America in powerful and meaningful ways.


- A variation on the "Torn Heart" exercise, in which a teacher shows the effect
of an accumulation of environmentally destructive actions, from littering,
to overuse of resources, to polluting plants, to deforestation, etc.
Students would see that their small actions, though individually
insignificant, have an enormous collective impact on the planet.

- A similar sort of variation could happen with the "Caring Being" exercise.
Using a large picture of the Earth, students could write in positive (thumbs-up)
activities that help the ecosystem and promote a sustainable environment, and negative (thumbs down) activities that damage the environment.

- Constitution of Earth Caring. As in DLAM's Constitution of Caring,
students as a group, class, or school can make a collective pledge to help the
environment through specific steps, such as recycling, turning off lights,
carpooling, walking or riding bikes, planting trees, etc.

-Teachers would lead, but also join students, as well as provide some guidance to make sure the students' pledges are practical and attainable. Students can pair-share and oversee one another and remind each
other of the pledge they made. They can also encourage their families and
communities to join them in adopting their constitution. (For example, a
student could say, "Mom, we're turning off the lights in our classrooms when
we're not using them; why don't we do that at home?")

- Students might study how other children live in developing nations, in
areas without enough safe drinking water, in other climates, or in areas adversely
affected by environmental change - either through natural disasters or created by people in their unawareness, neglect, unintended or not.

Some situations for study, thought and possible environmental help/retrieval/action by students:

• A neighborhood plagued by certain kinds of illness that might be caused by a nearby plant discarding effluents into ground water or flowing water nearby a polluting plant
• Indirectly, human-caused climate change, such as stagnant or dried-up lake; or through a weather disaster, such as a hurricane).

Possible actions by students to learn about, study, and do critical thinking and perhaps take action to address local environmental problems:

• A class might write a letter with specific questions to another
class, asking how daily life has changed or is affected by their environment. For example, students could write to other students affected
by Hurricane Katrina, and ask them kid-specific questions, such as, “Where do you
live now? Where do you play? Where do
you go to school? Do you live in a house or a
trailer? How is life different now?

• Students might find someone in their community who came from another country who was displaced by a hurricane or flood, and invite that person to speak to their class. They might then find ways they could help other people in the way students helped Hurricane Katrina victims, for example, simply by sending letters of concern and support or by adopting a small town and raising money for medicine of relief.

• Students could continue to celebrate diversity (as they do interpersonally in DLAM) by learning about ecological diversity. They could go to an outdoor location, such as a
playground or park, and catalog the different plants and animals
they see.

Such efforts might even take the form of an ecosystem bingo game. Students
would learn about the food chain, eco-balance, and symbiosis and learn to
appreciate the variety of species around them and understand the importance of maintaining such diversity. Students might study endangered and/or extinct species and list the general and specific reasons why those species are important.

• Students might write letters to their parents and/or to their elected and
community leaders, advocating for some local change or spreading an awareness, indicating their concern for preserving the planet for their children -- and the next generations.

• Students could develop art projects, songs, skits, dances, or videos demonstrating why the environment and its preservation is meaningful to them. They would be passing on what they have learned, but also appealing to others to adopt their perspective

• Particularly dedicated groups of students, clubs or classes might study the civic process, learn about the way laws are made and add their voices to an advocacy for a particular bill.

• High School and Middle School classes might hold mock congressional hearings on environmental issues.

• Students might study energy usage in their schools by touring their buildings and interviewing staff members. Students could learn how heat and/or air conditioning is wasted or wisely used in their school.

• Students could study the schedules of light use in their schools, learn what time the lights are turned on at their school before they arrive, and what time the lights are turned off after they leave. The could calculate the energy used and/or saved and make recommendations based on such calculations.

• Students could see what machines (e.g. computers, printers, copy machines,
refrigerators) throughout their school are on during the day, study the cost,
study the energy efficiency of their classroom windows, monitoring the
temperature outside and inside.

• Students could study how many hours a standard light bulb lasts as opposed to an energy efficient light bulb, count the number of light bulbs in their school, calculate the number of KWH used by their school uses in a year, calculate the number of KWH and money spent on light
bulbs the school could save by switching to energy efficient light bulbs,
petition their principal and/or school board to switch to energy efficient
bulbs, and maybe even propose that the money saved be used for a school
project like planting trees on school grounds.

• Students could also take similar surveys and make similar calculations in their homes, monitoring how many hours the lights are on, how often lights are left on in unoccupied rooms, how often the heat or air conditioning comes on and for how long, how much trash accumulates in a week, and/or how many miles are put on the family car(s) each week etc.

Living, as well as studying, Math and Science

By studying the Math and Science of energy usage and environmental
preservation, students can learn to identify ways to improve
their lives and the lives of others in their community.

A sense of empowerment by students

By making changes in their behaviors and by petitioning leaders to adopt sustainable environmental policies, practice conservation, however small and community-based, children and youth can feel a sense of empowerment and an ability to make changes of significance in their own communities.

Math and Science as the road to developing strong future citizens

Furthermore, as they study science and math and apply what they have learned
to their own advocacies as young members of their communities, they will
learn the essential lessons of participatory democracy. They will be well
on their way to becoming productive, engaged citizens. They can achieve these goals while
learning both conceptual and applied math and science.

Conceived by Rachel Jackson, assistant to Peter Yarrow, Summer 2006


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