In order for sustainability to become a common thread in society, it must be woven into our children’s curriculum. Georgia-Pacific shares that same belief and years ago created the Educational in Nature program. In a nutshell, the program provides conservation education supplements and lesson plans to teachers as well as hands on classroom activities.
However, Georgia-Pacific recognized that teaching styles change as society changes. To be current with today’s trends, the company sought to update their programs to reach more children. In doing so, the first step was gathering information from current sustainability thought leaders.
As the moderator of a three person panel discussion, I explored with the following participants how best to bring sustainability into the classroom:
Jenn Savedge: She is the author of several green parenting books, editor of Green Parent, and MNN’s family blogger. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Studies and was a park ranger for 10 years with the National Park Service.
Erin Klein: Klein is currently a second grade teacher, but taught several different grades, editor of Kleininspirational.com, an educational technology blog, and advocate of social media and education. She also has a master’s degree in Education.
Bobby Maddrey: Maddrey is Georgia-Pacific’s wildlife programs manager. In addition, he is currently working on an endangered forest mapping project. He has thirty years of experience in the wildlife conservation field.
There were a variety of questions posed to the panelists. Listed below is a condensed summary of the conversation. In addition, you can listen to a shortened podcast of the conversation (35 minutes) below or watch the video version. (The entire hour panel discussion is available here.)
How Sustainability Being Successfully Taught in the Classroom?
- Outdoor learning is the best vehicle to peak children’s interest in nature. Jenn mentioned how invaluable her children’s lessons on water quality were, which involved observations at a preserve. Bobby concurred and added the importance of hands on touch and feel demonstrations.
- Bobby mentioned that there is much misinformation in the classroom regarding endangered species. He surmised that many people have their own agendas, which are not necessarily based upon scientific information. He felt that the revival of factual science based education could help further wildlife conservation and sustainability in the right direction. Erin suggested proper teacher training could alleviate this problem.
How Can Sustainability Education be Better Implemented?
Erin suggested that business-supported mobile labs will provide children with hands-on approach. She noted that it could reduce the financial and logistical issues with field trips as well as a better educational approach to teaching.
When Should We Start Teaching Sustainability in the Classroom?
The entire panel suggested that pre-school and kindergarten are a great time to start. As Jenn explained kindergartners have such a sense of wonder. Examples of incorporating sustainability into the classroom included the use of worm compost in the classroom and creating big Earth day celebration. In essence, threading sustainability into lifestyle habits is a key objective.
Jenn felt that middle school (4th-6th grade) is also a critical time for sustainability education. At this age, children are starting to develop their own ideas. They are very creative and can help solve sustainability issues at the school. For example, they can help to reduce waste in the classroom or reduce wasting of energy.
Bobby felt that sustainability should be reintroduced in high school.
Erin suggested creating projects that give the students voice. In turn, this will empower students. Her suggestions included buddying with older students such as high school and college students as well as collaborating globally.
What Type of Technology Empowers Children’s Learning?
Erin stated students should blog to document their learning as well as network with other children. Jenn felt making the lesson personal, which focuses on how the environmental situation affects both the student and their community.
How Can We Best Teach Conservation Lessons to our Children?
Erin noted that time and resources are most critical. Businesses partnering with schools are very important. Mobile labs or a teaching specialist that come to the schools would be very helpful.
The panelists were concerned about how teachers are now required to teach to the test. As Erin mentioned above, time and money are the biggest roadblocks. Jenn suggested if teachers could be taught how to weave conservation through their curriculum there would not be the need to squeeze sustainability into their lessons.
Jenn gave the following example: If there were 250 existing falcons but we lose a certain amount due to deforestation or pollution, how many falcons remain. It is still a math problem but just couched in a conservation terms.
Erin suggested providing schools with ready to go kits would be helpful to teachers.
What is the Hardest Conservation Issue to Teach?
All three of the panelists concurred that the topic of global warming is hardest to teach due to its controversial nature. Due to the political nature of the issue, Jenn said her school barely touches on the subject but spends more time on pollution, endangered specifies, and water quality.
How is Does Conservation Teaching Differ from State to State?
Erin stated that inquiry based learning gives you most bang for your buck. Jenn concurred and spoke about National Park’s “solving this hypothesis” type teaching. Jenn’s daughters loved this type of learning while on recent vacation to the parks. Bobby stated that learning now is more to get to the end as well as the grade earned. He would like to see that children learn on the journey rather than simply the goal of acquiring the right answer.
How Can Financially Strapped Districts Teach Conservation Lessons?
Erin said although everyone would like more funding, it isn’t a prerequisite to implementing creative ideas. She suggested the following resources:
Bobby and Jenn talked about teaching lessons right outside the doors of the schools whether it is the nearby trees or in the community.
After the panel discussion, Georgia-Pacific was so intrigued about the discussion that they decided to continue the conversation through various other social media outlets and other panelists. I will keep you apprised of other conversations.
Many times we as environmentalists don’t think that companies are listening but in this case, Georgia-Pacific is.
Join the Conversation:
- What do you feel is the best way sustainability can be taught in the schools?
- What have you found to be success stories on how schools at all grade levels have incorporated sustainability into the curriculum?
- What do you think are the major roadblocks and how can they be overturned?
Disclosure: I did serve on the Georgia-Pacific panel as moderator because I felt the program was important and was not compensated for my time. I did, however, receive compensation to write the recap of the panel discussion, but all opinions reflected in this post are my own.