Earth Day For The 21st Century

Somehow Earth Day crept up on me this year, and I didn’t even realize it was here until the morning of April 22nd. At that point, I needed to figure out something for my students to do to help celebrate this special day. As somebody that enjoys routine and has a class of students that also enjoy routine, I thought that I would just change things slightly by modifying the blogging topic for literacy centres: instead of writing about school, the students could write about ways that they help the environment. Good … all done, and fairly quickly too, or so I thought.

Just as I was getting everything organized for this blogging activity, I got an e-mail from Mr. Baillie: one of the phys-ed teachers at the school. In the e-mail, he spoke about the paperless classroom, and without realizing it, he inspired me to do something different this Earth Day. I was going to create paperless literacy centres. A large number of my literacy centres are usually paperless, as I use a SMART Board, computers, iPods, and Palm Treos on a regular basis in my classroom. There is always some paper still used though, but not today. I quickly replaced all of my “paper centres” with whiteboards and whiteboard markers. I thought that the students could use their Palm Treos to take photographs of their work at these centres, still allowing me to see what they did and complete my regular formative assessment.

Little did I know the extent of creativity in my class. Thanks to a tweet from Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe), I introduced these slightly modified centres as “Litterless Literacy Centres.” My students were hooked! I shared my ideas with them, but they quickly thought of some of their own too. For example, for Buddy Reading, the students were supposed to recommend books to their classmates and explain their recommendations. One child was concerned that by not using sticky notes, their classmates would not know which books other had recommended for them. He quickly came up with a solution though: he wrote his recommendation on a whiteboard and took a photograph of his work with the recommended book. Then the student could refer to this photograph to help find the specific book. In another case, students had to visualize as part of a Listening to Reading Centre. I thought that they could split their whiteboard into multiple sections and draw different pictures in each section. One child thought that creating a digital storybook of sorts would be better. She took a photograph of each picture on her whiteboard before erasing it and drawing the next picture. She then played her work for me in slideshow mode. I didn’t even realize that there was a slideshow mode on the Palm Treos, but all of my six- and seven-year-olds knew. I love when that happens!

When our Litterless Literacy Centres were complete, my class was adamant that these were the best centres all year long, and that they wanted to have Litterless Literacy Centres again. I was inspired to create a set of them for my next round of literacy centres. I can’t wait to see what other good ideas my students share with me as they complete them!

Below is a slideshow of our special Earth Day Activity. You can even read this blog post by one of my Grade 1 students documenting what we did on this special day. Next year, I want to take this activity one step further and have Litterless Literacy and Math Centres.

This whole concept does pose an interesting question though: do paperless centres that rely on the use of technology really help the environment? As a Grade 1 student in another class commented to me, these centres use much more energy even though they use less paper. This is a very interesting point, but maybe this is what an environmental activity of the 21st century looks like. I would love to hear your thoughts!


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