To show that products and objects that humans make have lifespans, too. To show that when we’re through with them, we need to recycle, reuse, and re-imagine new purposes for them so there will be less pollution and waste on the planet.
This is a three-day lesson linked to ideas in the award-winning, children's environmental science book, True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet by Kim McCay and Jenny Bonnin. (2008 National Geographic, Washington D.C.) The book is one of the winners of the 2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. (You can read about this prize at: Book Award.)
True Green Kids is an easy-to-read, colorfully illustrated tips book of 100 ideas of activities or actions kids can take to make a positive difference in the environment; they don't need to wait for adults to lead. Just by looking at the Contents, they can choose an area—"at home" or "on vacation" for example—where they already have power and prerogative to make changes.
For example, flip to p. 22, "At home," and students are offered a section featuring many small actions that are within their reach, supported by environmental data to justify the action. When they learn the average U.S. household uses 127,400 gallons of water a year, they also learn right away they can make an impact by choosing to collect rainwater to water plants.
A digest of green facts is at the end of the book, as is a section on activities if you want to frame classwork through data or fun-to-make projects.
In tthis lesson, students work in teams—Green Corps—to give recyclable items new uses. At the end, they create posters of their creations and display the posters on all sides of a large box—such as the kind that institutional lots of toilet paper rolls come in—to create the Green Corps Kiosk for prominent display in the class or school.
The first two days each require three actions to create the Green Corps Kiosk. They also involve a cursory introduction to the book, True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet. On Day 3, the unit culminates with a deeper discussion of the book framed by a listening session with a taped interview with the authors. As part of the Assessment, students then write letters/e-mails to the authors telling them about their own Green Corps Kiosks. If a digital camera is available, it would be wonderful for the students to take a picture of their Green Corps kiosks and send/e-mail them to the authors.
Students this age may think that just by following the rule, "Waste belongs in the waste basket," all items they put in a waste basket are properly cared for, and that being buried in a landfill is the environmentally helpful end point for everything. Emphasize that for some things, a landfill is fine. But landfills take up a lot of space. As a society, we want to do two things: 1) not manufacture so much stuff in the first place because it uses raw materials, heat, and water, and produces waste and pollution sometimes; and 2) not use so much land that we could use instead to grow food on, or provide habitat for animals, or provide housing for people. Recycling and reusing items meet both those goals.
The list of materials is long because kids will create "products" out of recyclables that they have to "fish" for in a fish pond that you set up and stock. You could have kids/teachers bring some of the recyclable materials from home.
To set up the fish pond, take the length of rope or clothes line and fasten it to two right-angled walls in a corner. Then throw a blanket over the line to wall off a "fish pond," a recycling bin placed in the corner. Alternatively, you could use a covered bin.
Conducting a scavenger hunt from school offices could be a good way to find paper.
Large recycled boxes include the kind that holds institutional amounts of toilet paper; finding a refrigerator or professional mover's box for clothing would be ideal.
Get the class going by reading aloud from the True Green Kids book—and asking kids to take turns reading aloud if you have strong readers. You might start with a strongly appealing activity like "The Swap Club" on p. 56 in which students trade books instead of buying new ones. If children don't have books to trade, ask a civic group or Goodwill for a donation so all children can participate. Set up a "Swap Market" and let the kids rediscover value in books together.
After the swap, ask the students to comment/react. Ask: "Have you ever been to a garage sale? What was it like? Is it recycling? How many things that you use everyday in your family do you think you could find at a garage sale? What would the effect be on your family?"
In this part of the lesson, students will learn more about recycling and how it is possible to use the materials that are thrown away to make new products.
There are three parts to this exercise to be performed on each of two days—six parts, total. The Green Corps Kiosk created at the end of Day 2 can itself be recycled to support future green activities and messages.
Form a Green Corps
Divide the class into four groups. In each group, students will work together to invent a corps for giving recyclable items a new use—starting with naming the corps and inventing a logo.
Write the list of adjectives and nouns found on the Adjectives and Nouns teacher sheet on the board. (You also could copy the list onto a transparency and display it with an overhead projector.) Each group makes up its corps name by picking one adjective and one noun. There can be duplicates, or they can add to the list.
Once the corps is named, each student designs a corps logo: a picture that symbolizes what their corps believes and the future they want for the earth. Encourage students to incorporate aspects of their corps name into the logo. They could draw a Winged Rainbow, for example. This means each of the four class Green Corps will have five to eight pictures, depending on the number of students in each Green Corps group. Post these on their desks.
Go Fishing in a Fish Pond of Recyclables
Now, each student should "fish" for a clean, safe recyclable item from the "fish pond," either blindfolded choosing from a covered bin, or, ideally, with a yard stick "fishing pole" flung over a blanket hiding the recyclable bin in a corner of the classroom. Behind the blanket is a parent volunteer or upper-grade helper who ties on a "fish"—a recyclable item. Each member of each group gets an item.
Second Life Shuffle
Once each student has gone fishing and received a recyclable item, each corps gets 10-15 minutes for the "Second Life Shuffle." This is the creative time when each corps combines their fish pond items to make something new, to give it a second life. It could be obvious, such as arranging a store that refills the containers with the original products. It could be outrageously creative, such as a toy bulldozer made out of cereal boxes for the cab and body, and toilet paper tubes for crawler tracks. It could be an abstract sculpture or a playground for fairies—anything that gives it a purpose, real or imagined. Note: If the time pressure is too much for kids, drop it! But set an alternate limit, either with a timer or clock, music tape, or a convenient point in the schedule: "We need to finish and clean up by 11 a.m., before we go to the library."
Second Life Show
Each Green Corps presents its created item to the rest of the class, explaining what the product is, why and how they created it, and emphasizing how it helps reduce waste.
Advertise Your Product and/or the True Green Kids BookTo let the whole school know about the great green products and the excellent help the book provides in thinking green, each student should draw a catchy advertisement for either his/her product or the book. Tape these on the hall walls outside your class: Coming Soon! The Green Corps Kiosk Presents.....! Each Green Corps logo can be displayed here, too.
Create and Display the Class Green Corps Kiosk
On each side of a large box scavenged from school or other recycling, have each group tape its company name, logo, and its advertisements on each of the box's four sides.
Stand the kiosk in a place of honor in the class—or the office—to declare to the world the good work of the Green Corps. Team up with the school newspaper or radio station to create a "Good Green News" item of positive steps kids can take to make a difference to the environment. For broader coverage, invite the local news media to a press conference about your work.
Finally, encourage your students to walk around it to admire all the work and ideas. After they've studied each of the four sides, challenge students to see how well it illustrates some of the concepts in True Green Kids by expressing it as a "put up" (opposite of a put down). For example, "You did a really good job using_______". In the computer lab, have the kids read The Plastics Pledge. Then have them fill out the Plastics Pledge student sheet.
Have students listen to a podcast of an interview with Kim McCay, author of the book, to see why she wrote the book and why she included the activities she did. Discuss the author's motivations for the book and her research methods. Students should add their own ideas of what the book could have contained. Then, each student should write two questions he or she wants to ask the author in the letter each writes for the Assessment.
To assess student understanding, students should create an "update" to the True Green Kids book. Pass out an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper. Students should fold it side to side and add a description of their own recycled creation. Students can use the Green Corps student sheet to guide them in this activity.
After they have created their update, they should then assess another student's work. They can use the questions on the student sheet to help them with this activity.
These Science NetLinks lessons can help extend the ideas in this lesson:
Get permission to take the kiosk class-to-class and present its messages as a preamble to designing a school-wide program that would promote environmental stewardship.
For example, students could declare Green Week, and do such things as organize a recycling drive; or mount a Reduce School Lunch Waste effort, in which they get adults to help them weigh the trash container of food scraps in the lunchroom and chart it for each of five days. For ideas on various ways to reduce food waste, see Success Stories. Discuss the meaning of the results.
If they chart the lunch room waste and draw pictures of the project (or it could be office paper waste), they can add those pictures to the Green Corps Kiosk so the specific message/project changes on the kiosk while the committed message remains the same: reduce waste.
Collect rain water by getting an old barrel and putting it outside to catch rain and gutter runoff. Water a classroom plant from a ½ cup measure, marking off on a chart the days it was watered. Total up the amounts each month to appreciate how much water was used. Imagine a garden of 100 plants like the one tended. How many cups of rain would it take to water that plant? How many cups of water do students think they waste if they leave the tap running when they brush their teeth?
Start an "At Home Green Challenge" in which every child encourages his or her family to change one behavior to conserve a resource. It could be: unplugging computers and cell phone chargers when not in use; not letting the water run too long; taking a six-minute shower—not 15-minute shower. Keep a class roster of positive changes on a bulletin board.