Caring for the environment is one of our most essential duties as humans, and the current state of the earth makes its protection a vital lesson that needs to be taught as early as possible in life. While there are plenty of resources available for educators wanting to incorporate environmentalism into their curricula, what happens outside of learning units is also important for students to observe. Since modeling positive, eco-friendly behaviors in our daily lives is one of the best ways to learn about green living, we’ve come up with a few ideas to help you introduce green practices into your daily routine at school—and into your STEM curriculum.
Everyday Energy Use
One of the easiest ways of increasing energy awareness is by monitoring current usage. An energy meter or smart thermostat for classrooms and other communal spaces in school can help students practice energy use through technology. Regular monitoring of electricity output in this way will give students a tangible way of understanding carbon footprints, energy consumption, and environmental consciousness.
Regular energy reduction practices include reminding students to switch off lights, computers, and other appliances when not in use in order to maximize energy savings—laminated labels above electronic appliances will help students remember to save energy on a regular basis. To make energy-saving practices fun, host a school-wide competition in which the classroom with the largest reduction in energy use over a period of time wins a prize. It’s an exciting and innovative form of long-term learning that will surely create responsible and long-lasting habits.
Renewable Energy Sources
Teaching students about renewable energy is an essential part of 21st-century teaching practices, but current curricula only scratch the surface of this timely and worldwide energy goal. Incorporate renewables into your daily school routines by demonstrating the power of the sun, wind, and water through activities and discussions.
Solar power is by far the most commonly used renewable energy source in the United States, so your school or other local buildings may have a rooftop solar panel system installed already. If so, engage students by monitoring the energy savings of these units: take notes on average hours of sunlight, normal electricity use, electricity stored in the solar panels, and all costs and monetary savings applied to your solar panels. Have students present their findings and host a debate wherein students can determine whether solar panels save money and/or energy in your local area.
If your school does not currently have solar resources available, building your own solar panel system is easier than it sounds: purchase a kid-friendly solar panel kit or make your own solar oven with foil and cardboard. These kinds of projects are generally tailored to older children, but a homemade solar cell or oven can be used by the whole school for reference and topical discussion. Day-to-day activities in the school that make use of renewable energy include opening the windows and curtains to make use of the passive solar design of your building, studying outside whenever possible, washing hands and art materials with water collected from playground rainwater, and drying towels and other fabrics outside.
Fortunately, many schools already model positive recycling behaviors on a regular basis. If your school has recycling bins in every room and encourages their use already, this step should be fairly straightforward. Introducing a school-wide recycling scheme is simple and will involve liaising with your local recycling center to begin with.
In the meantime, demonstrate to students that many commonly used classroom items—like paper, plastics, and metals—can be recycled rather than thrown away. Establishing student-led recycling committees with weekly or daily duties in each class will further help students engage with the idea of recycling as an everyday occurrence.
Food and Water Consumption
Reducing food waste and water consumption is another environmental issue that is less commonly discussed or modeled than recycling, but it is, in fact, just as important. Simply placing notices above sinks and water fountains reminding students to switch off taps and watch how much water they are using will help to decrease the water consumption of your school.
As far as food waste is concerned, a school-wide assembly detailing your school’s regular food waste statistics will get the ball rolling for further discussion of ways to tackle this problem. A food waste collection bin in the cafeteria (with labeled notices detailing what can and cannot be put into the bin) can drastically decrease the amount of food students throw into landfill at lunchtime. The same can be done for classrooms where snacks are consumed. If you want to take your school’s food waste reduction even further, consider constructing a student-maintained composter in your school playground: daily food waste will go into the compost bin and can later be used as fertilizer in school flower beds and gardens.
The Natural World
While green living has strong ties to energy efficiency and waste reduction, the roots of environmentalism lie in the natural world. There are many ways to incorporate the natural world into the school day, and many of these ideas may well be included in your current STEM curriculum. However, regular and frequent contact with the outside world is essential in order for students to develop a positive relationship with the environment and a desire to protect it.
Outdoor classrooms are one of the most popular ways of allowing students to experience the natural world. If your school has ample outdoor space, create a living classroom and natural play spaces from willow branches, logs, and stones—and get outside as much as possible, whatever the weather. Schools where outdoor space is limited or nonexistent can still experience nature on a regular basis by observing birds from wall-hung feeders, monitoring the weather, or building and cultivating an indoor classroom garden and giving their harvest back to their community.
Taking the Science Lab Anywhere
One of the easiest ways to bring science learning directly into students’ hands is through experimentation. While we can run many valuable experiments in the science lab, we can also take the lab almost anywhere when we use portable data loggers, such as the Labdisc STEM lab, to capture and run inquiry-based experiments. Some great ideas for activities that can be run with devices like this can be found here.
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Lauren Pezzullo is a writer, editor, and musicophile who's passionate about vegetarianism and sustainable eating. As an editor for Modernize, she writes about energy-efficient living in the home. She's currently writing her debut novel.