"TRASH IS A DIRTY WORD"
~That's what my 6th graders mused after a 6 week unit on ecology-themed Challenge Based Learning (CBL). Most of our 'trash' can be recycled and diverted from our landfills.
I launched a CBL project this spring to explore ecology. I finally did it this year! :) The kids' task was to form groups around interests, then identify and DO SOMETHING to help solve a local eco-issue! We filled a board with ideas and narrowed it down to human pollution of air, land, and water and how that pollution affects living things. We created a graphic organizer of all topics/categories and who was doing each topic in each hour/class. We kept that on the board...so kids could talk to each other about their topics and go to experts as needed.
One topic was LANDFILL Pollution and there were 5 kids working on this between my 3 science hours.
And so we begin....
- This is the story of 5 kids, a round-the-corner-out-of-breath-answer-your-phone-Mrs. Gilly moment from a special place in KC called Missouri Organic, a school lunchroom.....and something called composting!
- This is the story of realizing your school and community are contributing to an ecoproblem and realizing YOU, a 6th grader, can and maybe even 'should' do something about it.
- This is the story of some 8th grade teachers who became heroes in my 6th graders' eyes, by taking them outside, answering a million questions, giving the kids kits and supplies, and taking part in their interviews and surveys. They did this with smiles and enthusiasm.
- Finally, this is the story of learning from 2 businesses in our city, Missouri Organic and Boulevard Brewery! We used Missouri Organic's generosity to aim for Zero Landfill (less than 10% goes to the landfill) in our lunchroom, like Boulevard has done. (Boulevard actually got rid of their dumpsters.)
To start off our story, you should know that the kids found out after a couple weeks into the project that our school was 100% LANDFILL in our lunchroom. All trays, lunch sacks...EVERYTHING... was dumped into one trash can. The trash was taken to the green dumpster on the dock. The dumpster for 1000+ kids was filled and picked up DAILY, and delivered to the landfill. Easy, right?
All kids went into this CBL project with little knowledge. This was MY first actual CBL project, so I was in the same boat with them, on running CBL and on the local issues! They had no clue where this would take them because they knew very little about landfills and pollution issues. They had no clue where our landfills were. They didn't know how they were built or set up. You get the picture. They found out it is tough to find free-flowing information on landfills. There aren't a lot of pictures out there and the pictures they found were copyrighted. They found that methane gas that comes off the landfills, adding to global warming and air pollution. This air pollution gets in the water. It's all connected they found!! (YES!) They found out about the leaking liners under landfills and water/land pollution. They found out that water pollution and air pollution tests must be carried out near landfills. They found out that no one wants a landfill near them and that landfills are filling up fast with lots of one-use plastic items placed in TRASH cans. Slowly they started seeing that, hey, a LOT of the stuff that gets dumped in a landfill causing pollution can easily be diverted and never sent there; can easily be reused, repurposed, or turned into something natural for the earth called compost. THEN came the questions. Why don't people recycle at home and in businesses and schools? Why don't people care? Do they KNOW what the issues are? What do we even do at our school
"So kids, what are you going to DO about this problem? What's your solution? I asked.
Blank stares. New experience. No worksheet to fill out, turn in, and be done. Excitement. No clue. :) Real stuff. Work to do.
They decided they needed to interview our head custodian, our principal, and worked extensively with the 3 8th grade science teachers, all of whom they got to know and absolutely adore now! The 8th grade teachers were in plan time during my afternoon classes and they ALWAYS listened to and took care of my kids, taking them (including other CBL groups) outside, giving them actual supplies and kits, answering their interview questions and having their students complete surveys made by my kids. This is one of my favorite parts of this whole experience--CBL has the power to bring learners together across grade levels to achieve a goal and make us feel like a big learning community instead of segmented, separate groups.
Here's what the kids found out:
-Our school is 100% Landfill in the lunchroom: All the trash at our school DURING LUNCH goes to the dumpster to be picked up by Deffenbaugh to be delivered to the landfill. -All the recyclables (from CLASSROOM recycling) are put into the bins (paper, commingled) and picked up by ABITIBI. -We found out that ABITIBI actually takes chip bags and styrofoam! Some recycling places do not take them
"So kids, what are you going to DO about this problem? What's your solution?I asked again. Still not there. More work.
Coming up with the solution, I found, was a stretch for the kids. They were not used to DOING something in school to solve a real-world problem! Once they got their minds wrapped around it and I provided the needed inspiration (involving a speech and an insult! ha!) they realized there was much to do. They wanted MORE TIME at the end of the year to do what they wanted to do, to make happen what they thought needed to happen! Many suggested I start this at the beginning of the year next year.
OUR CITY: They found the solution there!
In looking for a solution to enact, Myles and Blake in my 2nd hour made a phone call out into the city! (Do you wanna know how much 6th graders love calling people in the community? Then to see one phone call turn around our school's view of waste. That's what you dream of as an educator.) They stumbled across the the FRED program on their iPads (I didn't know about it!) and a company called Missouri Organic. They decided to be bold and CALL and see where it led to. What they found out was that Missouri Organic picks up food waste (which for most schools in KC, including ours at the time, goes to landfills) and turns it into natural compost. SOIL TO PLATE TO SOIL. They pick up from many big businesses in Kansas City and even from a couple of schools. SAY WHAT? (In their Challenge Based Learning Guide, students had to complete at least 1 interview and do a survey.
From Missouri Organic's FRED program page! See the many KC area companies that divert food waste for composting via the FRED Program! LET'S ADD SCHOOLS TO THIS!!The
This phone call from my 2nd hour kids call got the ball rolling and opened the door to the idea of composting at New Mark. I shared the phone call info with my 5th and 6th hour kids in the landfill groups. Seth and Ethan decided to call again and go a step further to see if/how/when we could start it at New Mark--they had found their SOLUTION! They were hoping for a WAY TO MAKE SOMETHING BIG HAPPEN TO DECREASE OUR CONTRIBUTION TO LANDFILLS and thereby DO SOMETHING about bloated landfills.
So, Seth and Ethan went down the hall and around the corner in a quiet spot to call Missouri Organic. They lucked out because they talked to a certain Christina Eglich, who is a great advocate of kids and of composting! BONUS: Christina told them she would set up a FREE trial for our school because of their phone call, throwing in eco liners, bins, and pickup of food waste 3x per week! The kids were ecstatic.
Christina told them she wanted to call me NOW to set it up! The boys had my school phone number and gave it to her (I had given it to them in case). She told them, "Tell Mrs. Gilchrist I'm calling RIGHT NOW!!" If you remember they were quite a ways from my room. I'll never forget this image....both boys making the turn into our room at full speed, halfway tipping over and halfway out of breath, pointing madly at my phone. I couldn't do anything but look at them and laugh. THEN THE PHONE RANG. :) The rest is history.
MISSOURI ORGANIC'S ROLE!
Christina Eglich not only gave us a free trial, she also met with the small groups that were working on their Challenge Based Learning topic of Landfills. She drove to New Mark twice in one day and came to each of my science classes. She brought actual compost and all sorts of pictures and tips for starting the program at our school. She helped our kids do a trial run and CHANGE our landfill-loving ways at New Mark.
CLICK for Fullscreen Flickr Pics and Captions-> Our LUNCHROOM SETUP and Solution
- We created a new lunchroom recycling setup in week 1 and changed it in week 2. See my Flickr Album of pictures/captions above for details!
- The kids found out that almost EVERYTHING can be either recycled by Abitibi or in the Ripple Glass bin down the street or composted by Missouri Organic.
Here are a few of the pictures.
**My kids believe one thing SHOULD BE happening that isn't happening...yet! They believe that every school should be aiming toward Zero Landfill as A GOAL and modeling BEST ECO PRACTICES for their communities. I wholeheartedly agree with them.**
Start small and move up to entire school! Call Missouri Organic and inquire about the FRED program.
It was a wild ride getting CBL GOING, but once I did, it was WELL worth the initial investment of effort!! I'm sold on it.
Challenge Based Learning led to all this...............................
- New thinking!
- New realizations about our community and issues we cause and must face.
- New connections within our school learning community.
- New connections to child's own self-guided learner. Heck yea!!
- Smiles and excitement; sense of passion and purpose
- Improving our school and community.
....................................................................................................not only for my kids but for ME!