I strongly believe that the study of environmental topics combined with actual actions to better our environment should become one of the foundation courses in all our schools. We have placed great importance on the sciences and social issues that may or may not become our student’s bread and butter, but we continue to neglect the reality that our planet is the basis of all our lives whatever our passions, and that unless we learn how to take care of our resources and surroundings which in today’s world means “the world” we may be unable to enjoy the fruits of our learning in school or in any other context.

Our students today were born with computers, plastics, fast food and travel to space. They do not see how these “new” developments in our human history could be the very tools of our demise, or how we may be able to ameliorate for the short term, and improve for the long term the fate of our species in this beautiful planet.

Regardless of our actions, I believe that planet Earth will continue to exist. Our fate, and that of all the living things on the planet, however is not so certain.  Already there have been five mass extinctions of almost all living things in the planet’s history.  Are we but the hand that will create the sixth extinction?  Will we survive it?  Even if we do, will our bodies and minds be able to benefit and progress from our continued abuse of the planet resources?

There are many theories and studies about how to better our planet, many of which are “learned” in school. However, we still do not have the courage in schools to make the connections that are necessary for change between our actions and habits and the realities of environmental degradation.  We teach our students about rain forest destruction, but we fail to connect that destruction to our consumption of forest products or our treatment of the people and countries where those forests are.  We encourage our students to donate money to charity organizations, but we fail to instill in them a true sense of civic duty and love for nature and all the people and things of the world.  We make fundraising activities that bring to light the many environmental issues of today, but we use many of the resources we are trying to save in the making of the fundraising.  We must do better if we are to truly make a difference.

Not only must we change our curriculum to include actual environmental experience and activism, but we must change ourselves and the way we run our schools. We can not laminate all our materials, turn on the air conditioning, copy and print countless materials or serve fast foods and snacks that are packaged in plastics if we truly care to “teach” about the environment and how to “save” ourselves from destroying the planet and ourselves.  We can not just leave the answers all to science because in fact, our science has been causing as much destruction as it has improvements, perhaps more.  We are now dependant on fossil fuels, nuclear energy, pesticides and chemical materials that have not necessarily answered the needs they meant to answer, but have actually created far bigger troubles.  Now, we have genetic foods which are meant to help “feed the world” yet may in fact cause just the opposite.  How can we try to grapple all of these subjects and more unless we have the courage to make them an integral part of all children’s education?  Change must come, and it must come fast if we hope to help the next few generations achieve positive changes in our quality of human life.

Earth 911 – COURSE DESCRIPTION

As individuals we all profess to be concerned for the environment, but we seldom take the time and energy to really learn about how the environment works, and why there is such concern for its future within our society.  This Web-based course is designed to help interested students explore the many aspects of how environmental issues are intrinsically connected to our way of life and it’s meant to challenge students to create change for the better in their own lives by learning AND personal action.

Earth 911 is the first Web-based course in ASIJ history.  As such, it is in itself an experiment in that students will have autonomy and responsibility to use their assigned time to work on their own for most of the time, while taking the initiative to use some of that time to meet with me (course advisor), conduct observations and meet with other students to create a learning community.

One important goal of the class is to use technology to save our finite resources, as such there will be minimal paper use, and most of the work will be done either through the internet, or through Blackboard.  After the first class meeting, students and advisor will determine when to meet and what expectations are to guide the rest of the quarter.

GENERAL EXPECTATIONS

Students are expected to work on developing good reading, writing and research skills.  Quality written work using computer software, and their own creativity will be required.  During the first quarter students will be expected to examine different environmental topics such as: species degradation, energy source use, abuse and management, climate change and possible impacts,  land use and management, waste issues, etc .  The second quarter of the course, students will be required to explore how their own lives affect environmental issues, and will be challenged to make positive changes for themselves and their community.

CLASS PROJECTS

Although the student will have great autonomy to decide what aspects of the environment to focus on for their particular research presentations, a global understanding of issues and connections in expected.  Possible projects to assist in gaining understanding are:

1) Endangered Species Project:  Students will choose an endangered animal to study and will explore the reasons for its endangerment.  All projects will be displayed in the ASIJ web upon their successful completion.

2) School Improvement Project:  Students will become “Environmental detectives” and will concentrate on an environmental study of the school and how we use our natural resources.  A report that outlines observations, problems and ideas for change will be the final goal of the project.  Students will have the opportunity to present their report to the school administration and community at large.

3) Individual Interest Project: Students will have the opportunity to explore a personal environmental interest and create a final project for the course.  This is an ” open idea”  individual project in which the student is free to use his/her personal interests, skills, technology or any other tool available at school.

4) Self Study Project: Students will be asked to observe their every day habits.  They will be asked to take daily notes on their environmental habits, and then, they will be challenged to make changes on those habits that affect the environment negatively.  This is a Semester long project.

5) Photographic Exhibit: Photograph (8 x 10) Matted Color or Black & White (film or a disk will be provided). The theme of the exhibit will be “Environmentally Speaking.”

6) Garbage Art Project: Students will be asked to create a two or three dimensional art piece with garbage materials.  Students will be asked to collect the garbage they produce (paper, plastic, non-toxic and non-degradable garbage) in order to make their artistic piece.

GRADING POLICY: Students grades will be based on the following:

In-class activities:
Class meetings will not be regular and will be called ahead of time by the advisor through blackboard and/or email announcement.  When we do meet, students will be expected to participate fully in class activities, to be prepared for their presentations, etc.  Most likely, meetings will be called for: a field trip, a particularly important or interesting report that is relevant to all, students final presentations or updates on how projects are coming along.

Projects and Papers:
As this is a web-based course all work will be graded through participation in either blackboard discussion, or completion of papers / projects.  During our first class meeting students will decide on what projects they will be spending their time, and how they will pursue  their own learning on environmental issues.  Evidence of learning through written, visual or oral presentations will be expected with at least three (3) projects with specific agreed-upon guidelines per quarter in order to receive full credit for the course.

Homework
Although having no “homework” is my goal as the advisor, the reality is that having an active interest in learning about the environment means that the student is always thinking about the topic and is always actively seeking to learn more about it.  Students of Earth 911 should read the news and think of connections, should look at articles that relate to the environment, should watch programming that encourages learning about the many topics associated with the environment, and should actively seek to learn about themselves as environmental beings in the process.  All students will be asked to keep a record of “learning” and this record will become a part of the final grade each quarter.

TECHNOLOGY
Students can and will be utilizing a variety of software this semester, including word processing, front page, the internet, and a camera (digital is a plus).  Students may also want to use a video camera to report events or to conduct interviews.

EXTRA HELP
Since students will not have to meet regularly, I will be available during the scheduled time to help any student one on one with any research or any question that s/he may have.

COURSE RULES: 3 basic rules:

1) Be responsible for yourself and your work: Communicate with advisor regularly on progress and document all your work.   2) Use time wisely, it is one of your most precious resources! And 3) Challenge your mind! Be an active learner.

Course Parameters/ Curriculum

Part I

Course Title: Earth 911

Grade: 7th and 8th grade

Length of Course: One semester

Prerequisite: None

Books & Materials: Although there is no text, our class is involved in constant research and reading of environmental materials.  Students are encouraged to read the newspaper or magazines to be aware of environmental news.  They are also encouraged to view environmental programs on TV if available.  Our regular sources are as follows:

Videos include:

  • Biodiversity, Expressions of Life. Sonoran Research Center, 1998
  • Power up: Energy in Our Environment. Rainbow Educational Media, Raleigh, NC.
  • Source of Life: Water in Our Environment. Rainbow Educational Media, Raleigh, NC.
  • Threats to Biodiversity: Why We Should Care. Rainbow Educational Media, Raleigh, NC.
  • Struggling to Survive: Tropical Rain Forests. Rainbow Educational Media, Raleigh, NC.
  • Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

In addition we use various magazines periodically for our research which are available in our library such as:

  • National Geographic Magazine
  • International Wildlife Magazine
  • Scientific American Magazine
  • Times/Newsweek Magazines

We also use environmental websites extensively to guide our research.  Some of the mayor ones are:

  • http://www.sierraclub.org/
  • http://forests.org/
  • http://www.jbpub.com/environet/orgs/index.cfm

Finally, when the number of students allow, we use the following computer software:

  • Rainforest Researchers. Tom Snyder Productions, Watertown, MA

Course Description: The fate of many species and natural resources is in jeopardy.  In order for us to help protect our home and all its inhabitants we need to be better informed about environmental issues and we must learn how each individual can make a difference.  The first quarter is spent focusing mainly on endangered species and their surroundings.   Students learn about the many causes of endangered species, and they have the opportunity to become experts on one endangered animal.  Students also become involved in a “self-awareness” program that asks them to look at their own environmental habits and make changes in their daily activities that may harm the environment.  Students also prepare a photography show entitled “Environmentally Speaking” in which each student is responsible for making a visual statement of the environment.  During the second quarter, students are involved in a “school-improvement” project in which they evaluate the school’s environmental practices by making observations, polls, and finally recommendations for change.  Students also expand their “self-awareness” study to include their family’s practices and habits.  During the second quarter students have the choice to research a project on their own in an environmental topic of interest, and finally, they create a sculpture with garbage.  Outings include a study of the Nogawa Park environment during one class period, a visit to the local Tama zoo on a school day, and a hike in the nearby mountains (with parental permission) on a Saturday. If possible, students also visit the nearby incinerator for a tour of their operations.

Part II ASIJ Schoolwide Student Learning Outcomes

Effective Communicators

  • Through the study of endangered species, their own research during second semester, interviews, and reports students are involved in thorough research, clear and convincing writing, and powerful argumentation during their oral presentations and exhibits to the school at large.
  • Students are expected to listen to the video presentations carefully while taking notes, they are expected to take notes and ask questions during classmates presentations, and they are encouraged to help each other with any difficulty during research times.

Literate Individuals

  • Students are involved in investigating real cases of endangered species, they analyze their own habits and are challenged to make changes, they are asked to be directly and personally involved in making a real difference in their life to improve the environment.
  • Students are expected to understand and be competent with various sources throughout their research. Students are required to interview people, make observations and write poll results.  All reports and presentations are expected to be of high quality.

Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers

  • By becoming aware of the environment around them, the problems faced by endangered species, and their own environmental habits and how these may be connected to environmental degradation, students are challenged greatly to become not only aware, but to critically analyze and change their environment for the better.
  • Through the photography and sculpture projects, students are able to use their creativity to make environmental statements.
  • Through the “School-improvement” Project students are challenged to not only become aware of the environmental problems in our school, but to propose realistic and positive changes to the community.

Self-Directed, productive Learners

  • Students are heavily involved in research on their own, and in group-cooperation on group projects.  Students are expected to use time wisely, and to learn on their own constantly.
  • Through the “Self-Awareness” Project, students are asked to understand their own responsibility for the environment around them, and are challenged to make healthy and positive changes in their life to improve their environment.  The reduction of garbage, the conservation of energy, the reduction of plastic consumption and an increase in healthy food choices are all included in the program.

Constructive Community Members

  • Students are expected to work well with their class members during group projects.
  • Students are encouraged to respect their environment and the earth in general, and are challenged to become very aware of the environmental issues around the world through reading the news and class discussions.
  • Students are expected to not only learn about the environment, but also make changes to improve and preserve the environment around them.
  • All the projects in the class are focused on the improvement of the quality of life for the students and those around them.  Such preparation is critical when taking personal responsibility as an environmentally active member of a democratic society.

Part III Critical Questions

  1. What are the mayor causes of environmental degradation in the world today?
  2. What are the consequences of destroying the environment on my own life?
  3. What are the critical connections between environmental problems and our current way of life?
  4. As a part of my environment, in what ways am I helping or harming my environment?
  5. What can/should I do to improve my environment?
  6. How can I positively involve others in improving the environment?

Part IV Technology Use and Library Use

  • Internet research and word processing
  • Audio-visual systems of environmental topics
  • Library books and resources for research purposes
  • PowerPoint, Front-page availability for personal presentations.  We are currently involved in creating a “paperless” classroom.
  • CD-Rom program when number of students allow

Part V What Students Should Know and Be Able to Do

Content: (What are the key topics and concepts of the course?  What should students know?)

  • Personal actions or inactions affect the environment either positively or negatively.
  • There are definite and strong connections between our habits in our present consumer lifestyle, and the degradation of the environment on a global scale.
  • The fate of the world as we know it (and of our species) is in our collective hands.  We are all equally responsible for making our world better or worse, and everyone has the choice to be a part of the problem, or the solution.
  • Our energy sources are finite.  It is our responsibility to conserve energy, and to try to find alternative sources of energy.
  • Everyone can and should make a positive difference.

Skill Outcomes: (What skills and processes do we want students to possess after successful completion of course?)  Students will:

  • develop the ability to conduct research effectively and thoroughly by looking at multiple sources critically.
  • create physical evidence of their environmental awareness
  • develop interviewing and public presentation skills
  • learn how to do a survey effectively and thoroughly
  • use evidence to build their own understanding of environmental issues
  • learn to respect the environment and its infinite value
  • use technology and media effectively to affect environmental change

Part VI Examples of Expanded Assessment

Student progress will be assessed in a number of ways:

  • written analytical papers
  • extended use of available research
  • oral presentations
  • statistical analysis and explanation of results
  • artistic creativity
  • professional presentation of group and personal projects
  • personal responsibility and use of time
  • peer reviews

Those involved with preparing this syllabus:   Sara Baquero-García