Looking at Biomimicry and Nature to Become More Sustainable

Anyone looking at today’s headlines may think the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Yet, one of the main reasons I teach is the optimism kids have about their future, the potential kids see in creating a more just world, and the endless possibilities of things they believe they can accomplish.

Over the past few years, our school has run an annual coin drive to benefit a particular global organization. This year, our fifth graders chose World Concern as the organization, but more specifically, that the money collected would go to purchase solar cookers for families in Chad. With the recent population boom in eastern Chad mostly coming from war-torn Sudan, many children are sent miles, through often dangerous terrain, to fetch wood so their families can cook their meals. Aside from protecting children, it also protects the deforestation that has happened in that region. For an area that is often hot and receives a lot of sun, these inexpensive and innovative cookers make a lot of sense.

How innovative can we be with our own sustainable practices? I watched the TED talk below last week and was awed by what people are thinking about and coming up with. Not only that, I also realize how much I have to learn in order to actually teach it. I don’t want the idea sustainable practices to feel like lip service in order to gain whatever points one needs to have a building LEED certified or some other sustainable stamp of approval. I simply want the process to be genuine. One of my frustrations this year has been trying to learn about sustainability because the topic is so complex, full of paradoxes, and for me, something new. I don’t know what starting small means. I’m also not sure how to bring it down to a level that makes sense for second graders (besides reusing, recycling, and composting materials). Our school’s symbol is the sun. Having children understand that it gives us energy that we can harness and store, and that it’s a renewable source is something I can work with and so can my students. Unfortunately, in Seattle, with hydro power being inexpensive, and sunlight being scarce in the winter, I’m curious how long it takes for a solar panel to pay for itself, if at all.

Anyway, take a listen to this amazing talk and you’ll see what I mean by how complex sustainability can be. My favorite line from the video, “You could look at nature as being like a catalogue of products, and all of those have benefitted from a 3.8 billion-year research and development period.” Let’s inspire our kids to develop the tools needed to think this way and “set their souls ablaze” with optimism and hope.

Making Data Beautiful

Making sense of student ERB test scores on a spread sheet can be daunting for some, and after staring at those numbers for a while, make one’s eyes a little blurry. Turning those numbers or any kind of numerical data into something more concrete, like a pie chart or bar graph makes it much easier to read and grasp. Taking it one step further and pairing up with other data could reveal some interesting patterns. For example, with the test scores I mentioned, when comparing them to other schools, what if we were able to include data on the size of the school as well. Would the results change? What is the statistical significance when comparing a school with one class per grade to one that might have 10 classes per grade. Does the sample size change the data set in a way that might be interesting? There are many other ways one can think about data and there has been quite a rise in what is called an infographic: taking the data, adding some design to it, and representing it in a way that can be visualized so it can be easier to understand.

In his TED talk below, David McCandless draws interesting conclusions from complex datasets and pairing them together. So instead of looking at simply what country has the biggest military budget, he might pair that with the country’s GDP and suddenly, the results are quite different. He also has a blog worth checking out called Information Is Beautiful. It’s definitely worth checking out.

 

 

 

It Takes a Village

Community Connections is the title of the 4th section of the book The Third Teacher.

My favorite piece of advice in this section is to “build a nest…Children need comfort just as much at school as they do at home. Give them a soft, quiet, and cozy area to play in by themselves or with a few friends.”

With a new room to move into, it’s not just designing the larger teaching spaces that need to be considered, but also the smaller nooks, stations, centers, and floor space.

Another piece of advice was to “consult widely and often…Those heading up the planning process for a
new school will get off on the right foot by inviting every potential user and stakeholder into the process right from the start.”

Planning and designing something like a school is a large undertaking and while not everyone is going to get everything they wanted, if there is some way that every stakeholder from neighbor to teacher to student feels like they were part of the process and thus part of the community, the building should be a success. I’m anticipating success with our school’s new building.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think about Greg Mortenson, author of another book, Three Cups of Tea who visited our school a couple of years ago to talk about his mission. His challenge to design and build schools in remote areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan serves as a good reminder of the different kinds of schools around the world and the communities that value them.