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April 25, 2017

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School project that transforms lessons into real action

AS an Upper School teacher of IB Biology and MYP Sciences, environmentalism is a particularly meaningful topic in my day-to-day teaching. We learn about carbon cycles to understand the significance of fossil fuel deposits used for combustion and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. We track data that correlates atmospheric CO2 with global warming and changes to world climates and oceanic acidification. But some of my most enjoyable experiences with environmental learning have come from working with younger students, in particular as a mentor for a group of fifth graders engaging with a long-term collaborative project for their PYP Exhibition project on the environment.

The students had a good base of understanding global warming and its link to CO2 in the atmosphere, as well as people’s energy needs and issues surrounding conservation and resource management. After a period of brainstorming they identified fluorescent light bulbs in the school as an energy-consuming resource that are replaced often and disposed of frequently. Were there better, more environmentally friendly options available that would last longer and use less energy but at a similar cost? Working with these students, I found this was a question that required a lot of investigation. How much did the current light bulbs last? How expensive were they? How do we balance the economic cost of the “better” more environmentally friendly light bulbs with the benefit of less waste, less energy consumption and less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere? Ideally, could we find a light bulb option that was an improvement both environmentally and financially, in the long-run?

The students came to a census of how many bulbs were in the classrooms and were surprised to find they numbered thousands. They had to find out how much the bulbs cost, how many were ordered every year, and how the more eco-friendly versions could be sourced in China. Ultimately their project will culminate in a presentation to our head of school where they will state their case for why the school should invest in this new bulb. If the students are able to crunch the numbers, explain the science, and appeal to reason, logic, and ethics, they have a great shot at seeing this learning turn into real concrete action.


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