Saturday, February 21, 2009

Becoming Environmentally Aware

So those of you who know me in my day-to-day life probably know that I have taken on a challenge this semester. I was given a gift by a professor. I was given freedom. I was told when given my teaching assignment to "do whatever you want." And I have.

The class is called Environmental Issues. The one-hour discussion lab used to require the students to purchase a book that had point-counter point essays on pressing and not-so-pressing environmental issues. Many of the essays assumed a higher level of understanding about politics, world issues, and general awareness than many of my students possess at their age. They were expected to read the text and come prepared to debate the issue. I think you can imagine what happened. The class arrived not having read the material. No one was able to make a meaningful point about the material they hadn't read and the lab instructor (me) had to lead them through it. Tiring for me. Dull for them. It wasn't anyone's favorite class.

I am of the firm opinion that the point of science education is to arm students, most of whom are not pursuing science careers, with the tools they need to adequately assess and process science information that they will encounter once they leave school. I decided that over-their-heads environmental debates was not the best way to achieve this. The only way to engage students is to make the subject matter exciting. If I'm not excited about the material, how can I expect them to be? I decided to do something radically different.

OK, in week one, they HAD to do an assignment on how to find scientific sources in the library and using internet resources for a term paper they were going to do. At least they didn't have to show up to that lab prepared.

But since then, I've asked them to inventory every electrical appliance in their homes and to analyze where their energy dollars are going. We used this cool "Kill A Watt" reader I purchased for the class to compare televisions, VCRs, lights, compters, microwaves and so forth. We did the math to demonstrate how much money they could save by switching all their light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescents and by switching from washing clothes in hot water to cold water. I defied them to fnd a difference. I made them determine their carbon footprint and to compare their lifestyle (in terms of energy use) to that of someone from a developing country. We talked about human population growth and then I gave them assignment to try to get some grasp of "what is a billion". I gave them assignment to spend a half an hour researching an environmental issue of their choosing (Kyoto Protocal, 2000 watt society, hybrid vs. internal combustion cars, etc.) and to write a page on what they learned and what they thought about it. Wow! Did that assignment work out well. I think they actually enjoyed it. This week, I'm requiring them to keep track of every single item they throw away and to analyze it and think about how they might reduce their waste generation. I'm doing this with them, and I have decided to take this one step further. I'm going to create a blog entry of sorts on an "environmental weekend". I'm going to talk about what I did, what I bought, what I threw away and then I'm going to consider the environmental impact of my actions. I'm going to detail the thought processes I went through in making those decisions. I'm going to share with them things that I could have done differently. Ultimately, I'm going to ask them for ideas on how I might lessen my own environmental impact.

I think this could be interesting. I'll likely share it with you.

I'm pretty psyched about the class. At least I can communicate my excitement about the material to them. Surely, that has to be something.

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