The Environment is a rich resource for school curriculum and the community

The Environment is a rich resource for school curriculum and the community
"Save our planet," urges a student from Peru.

We celebrated Earth Day (actually Earth Week) and sadly, to many, it was just another ho hum day.   Certainly no big tribute to Mother Earth.  According to Tribune columnist, Rex Huppke, “this may be the last year we even need an Earth Day.  A survey released by the Huffington Post found that since Earth Day’s creation in the early 1970s (in response to an oil spill of the coast of California), the percentage of Americans who consider it ‘very important’ to restore our natural environment has dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent.  (Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, April 23, 2013)

Hmm, I decided to check around to see what was happening during Earth Week.  In Highland Park and Evanston, some students were walking to school and bringing zero waste lunches.  In Algonquin, students studied renewable energy sources and planted a very large tree donated by a local business.  In Chicago, some students, including a huge contingent from Amundsen high school, were planting trees and native plants.  As  students have learned, studying the environment and ecology gives them a stake in a problem and an opportunity to affect change.  The environment is a rich teaching tool; it can be looked at from so many angles:  politically, scientifically, geographically, and artistically—to name a few.

Teachers, resources are easily accessible.  Take a look at the EPA’s website, "A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change.”  See also, the Jason Project, the Heat is Online, and Cool Globes and the Field Museum’s exhibits/materials on climate change.  With these resources, it’s not hard to develop a unit on the environment.  When I taught in Highland Park, we filmed an i-movie on climate change (presented locally, including at National Louis University), set up a mock, international climate change summit (economics, geography and politics of climate change), planted trees, and created a number of community friendly, environmental exhibits.  Two of my former colleagues, Dennis Brousseau and Paul Grant, were recently hailed for hydroponic farming done in the Ravinia School Greenhouse.  Not only do Ravinia students garden there, they get a chance to act as eco-friendly entrepreneurs, selling their lettuce to Prairie Grass Restaurant.

Globally, Earth Day is widely celebrated.  Even more important, educators are teaching about climate change and sustainability.  In Peru, educators are instilling respect for the Earth and teaching about water scarcity, mudslides, and glacial melt.  In South Africa, students study droughts and water collection.  I recently read that in Paraguay, students adopted six acres of the Rainforest and in Pakistan, educators, businesses, and the government created a program for the planting of “50,000 trees…in order to combat the effects of global warming and deforestation.”  See, http://www.mirror.co.un/news/technology-science/science/happened-how-earth-day-2013.

For Chicagoans, another great chance to participate is coming up:  World Environmental Day is on June 1, 2013  at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Hope you will take a look at this worthy program!  My students and I did in 2010.  In terms of 2014, here's what I am thinking:  let’s make respecting the environment so integral to our lifestyles that we don’t need to mark a holiday as Earth Day.  Every day can be Earth Day.

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