Asking questions about the environment – a kids perspective.

Sockeye disappear from the river ecosystem.

Where have the salmon gone?

Teaching young students about environmental sustainability is a tricky thing. Students need to be knowledgeable about the forces that are shaping their world, but the process of instruction needs to be done in such a way as to not frighten them, or leave them feeling guilty about choices they had no part in making. Children need to be given the right amount of information so that they can increasingly begin to make constructive decisions about living responsibly on this limited and sometimes fragile planet.

Socrates was put to death for asking questions, but I don’t believe that any of his students were. So it seems like a safe strategy to encourage kids to ask questions about the current state of the earth’s ecosystem. Just the process of asking questions engages learners on a path of discovery. I think that the more questions a child can generate the better and if they can’t think up one of their own they should borrow one from a partner. Often before a learner can ask a deep question they need some background information.

This past week we have been exploring the concepts of ‘ The Ecological Footprint’ and ‘Carbon Footprint’.  We have been using two excellent resources to look at these complex phenomena. The ecological footprint calculator http://www.ecovoyageurs.ca/en/page.cgi?stage=footprint/footprint shows how many earths would be needed if everyone used the same amount of the earth’s resources. Because the kids live a Canadian lifestyle typically they require four planets to maintain their current standard of living. Kids have a heap of questions after this activity. The website has a variety of other activities and games to support environmental learning as well. To investigate the amount of carbon students produce in a year we go to http://www.meetthegreens.org/features/carbon-calculator.html . Here they find out the number of tonnes of carbon they produce in a year among other activities.

As a follow-up research project kids trace their own feet and fill in some of the factors they have learned about that create these two footprints. To fulfil our mandate to be a connected classroom, in the near future we will generate a list of questions about the environment and turn that into a video to post on the internet.

As a teacher it is exciting to be part of a process of discovery where students are engaged in learning about things that matter to them and that they want to understand. After all they are the ones who will soon inherit this planet from us. They will need all the wisdom and perspective they can get to deal with the environmental challenges in their future.


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One response to “Asking questions about the environment – a kids perspective.

  1. Hi Ken,
    A couple of very thoughtful posts since I’ve had time to check in and comment. I agree that it’s a tricky balance when introducing topics such as environmental sustainability and global warming into the classrom, but I’m glad you are. I think you’ve just convinced me to shift the subject for the upcoming art unit my students will be working on.

    And after visiting ecovoyageurs, I had mixed feelings with my result of needing 1.97 planets to maintain my standard of living. While 1.97 is better than the average Canadian, it’s still 0.97 too high for my liking.

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