Over the course of this term my students have been working on an impact project on the topic of sustainability. I must admit that I stole the basic idea from ASHS. I love the idea that even at this young age, students should be thinking about how they can use their own talents to help make the world a better place. However due to time and the need to cover the school’s theme, the students were specifically looking at society’s use of natural resources and then taking what they learned and using to make an impact on the community in some way.
Alongside our igloo making, I planned a provocation to get the kids thinking. I found a fascinating TED talk on Fair trade cellphones. A lot of the students struggled with some of the concepts in the talk , however sustainability minute I mentioned Avatar the penny dropped. There was a mineral that was being harvested by humans at great cost to both a society and an ecology. We then, went through and looked at the different ways we could build knowledge about the resource being used such as wikipedia, contacting the person who gave the talk and or companies that manufacture mobile phones to see if they knew where the raw materials from the cellphone come from.
Finally we looked at ways that could use our new-found knowledge to do something about this whether it be through consumer choices (such as only buying from companies that produce ethically produced phones), political power (such as writing letters or our representatives) or art like for example as igloo making or movies. In short I provided a model for the students to follow in their own inquiries.
And then I sent the students off on a similar journey. The students chose their own natural resource and then went about the process of building knowledge about how humans are using the resource. One of the requirements of this phase of the project was that the students needed to engage with an outside expert.
It was amazing how many of my students were apprehensive about this task. While much of the focus of digital learning has been on students being able to access information. As my students found out being passive consumers was one thing, actually contacting people out in the ‘real world,’ that was tough. Even finding the right people and organisations to contact took a while for my students to get their heads around.
However the pay off was that through contacting experts, students inquiries started taking off in different directions. One group was resourcing a precious metal, Through contacting a jewellery company in the United States that specializes in using recycled materials for their products they found out that there the resource wasn’t being recycled even though the production caused significant environmental damage.
If contacting the outside world was fearsome, using their new-found knowledge to make an impact was even harder. Most of my students decided to play it safe by defining their community as something around the school however one brave group decided to write a protest letter to a foreign government. Sure it might not change the world over night, but the point was that the kids were using their education to make an impact.
As a teacher I found this project incredibly challenging. There’s a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and also trying to get the kids moving to where they needed to go. I frequently found myself asking ‘Why are you contacting this organisation?’ ‘How will your artwork/presentation make an impact?” “Are you sure that this message is going to the right people?”
Impact projects required a lot more deep thinking by the students. The purpose of the project to get kids thinking about what resources are used to produce the everyday items and more importantly what they as citizens can do to influence our use of resources was mostly accomplished. The process of creating these projects has made me realize that my students don’t really have a knowledge of how to learn something new and more importantly what do with this information.
Or perhaps they do. One of students remarked at the end of the week that they wanted to email an old teacher so that the students could see this student’s advice to the new year 7s. Building content, collaboration and connection hmm perhaps there’s a model in there for learning.