The Grade 4s' School-Wide Waste AuditVessna's Grade 4 class wanted to know how much garbage their school was sending to the landfill and whether the students and teachers were making environmentally conscious and responsible decisions about the waste they produced daily. To investigate these questions, the class carried out a school-wide waste audit. With approximately 350 students, plus the teaching and support staff, this was a huge undertaking. Vessna had never done anything like this before. Where would she begin?
Vessna was confident that the children would have valuable ideas to contribute to this process and she wanted to empower them. So instead of agonizing about how she, alone, would tackle this project, she turned it over to the students, allowing them to take the lead in the planning and implementation of the audit. she asked the students.
The children had many initial ideas, which they would later refine, including:
Through discussion and negotiation, the students revised their initial ideas and agreed upon the following principles:
For an entire afternoon, the children sorted through the garbage bins in each classroom and learned important information about each class' waste production (For details, see Table 17). The students collaborated on every stage of this process: from project design and set-up to garbage collection, sorting, documenting, and cleanup.
Observing compostable waste in actionIn the midst of the waste audit, the Grade 4s were surprised to discover that their school was producing a large volume of potential compost everyday and sending it to the landfill. This discovery left a lasting impression upon them. Surely there was a better option.
Therefore, when the students visited the Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre several months later, they jumped at the opportunity to observe the process of diverting organic material into compost. As the Forest Valley staff turned a massive mound of compost, they learned that our planet renews itself through this same natural process of organic decomposition (See Photo 67). To their dismay, they now understood that the piles of organic waste produced daily at their school were doing nothing more than increasing the accumulation of waste in the landfill that received them.
This level of understanding did not come from a page in the students' math textbook. It came from a deeper source: the student's own questions and their desire to answer them. For Vessna, this experience affirmed that lasting learning experiences are more likely to occur when students' questions are at the centre of their learning.