Diving deep with our thinking as we really go Beyond Recycling

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I find that there are some key moments in your work life that stick in your brain that remind you why you do what you do. Interspersed with days of overwhelming busyness, despair or balancing stress and complex classes, there are some magical sessions that shine the brightest light into you and leave you feeling joyous and filled with inspiration.

Today with the Grade 5/6 class as Arrow Heights Elementary School was one of those days.

Our lesson on Sustainability began in our usual way of introducing the lesson title or theme, looking at our learning outcomes and then moving into defining key terms or examining key concepts. Part of this lesson is to draw a map of the world on the ground with rolls of ribbon and discuss and assign our class of students to different continents based on population size (our class of 20 ended up being representative with 1 student in North America, 2 in South America, 3 in Europe, 4 in Africa and the rest in Asia – but realistically we needed six more students to graph it accurately as the ratio called for 16 students in Asia!)

I asked them to guess the order of population density in these continents from low to high and they were pretty accurate. Standard understanding of the content.

Setting up our giant world floor map. Getting the dimensions right is harder than you think!

Next I asked them to clear the decks and we started to assign the continents using bags of candy (measured out of 100 to match the percentages) to rate the continents from lowest to highest energy consumption (per capita). This is where things got interesting. Our little North American population, lowest of all the continents? Represents more than HALF of the world’s energy consumption (54 sweets). Asia with it’s ginormous 1/7 of the world’s population? Just 10% of the energy (10 sweets).

Huge and quite populous Africa? Just 3%. (A measly 3 sweets).

Now this is usually quite interesting for students, they are dismayed at this visual representation of inequality and it normally sparks some debate, but what followed back in class was a revelation.

This week’s worksheet was really opinion and thought based. Students were scribbling furiously to debrief after the mapping incident.

We dived deeper into what sustainability is by defining and recognising our wants versus our needs. This is where the magic happened. I asked students to identify needs first – food, water, shelter immediately came up, followed by air and then discussion on family or love, medicine, the necessity of technology in our world, especially in a pandemic. Education, money, communication as needs were all were raised.

This deeply felt but respectful discussion followed on what we need as a society. We looked at what education actually is, related it to Indigenous methods of transferring knowledge, discussed medicine and how much of it exists in nature without people knowing. We danced around the links between sporting equipment and health and wellbeing, the potential futility of humans in our ecosystem, changes to population trends linked to ideologies and or improvements to medical care or perhaps our importance as a race, if not just to ensure the toxic things we’ve built or develop do not go ka-boom in our absence.

Missing were the potentially childish obsessions with stuff or things in the wants section, these students were truly relating their needs as a human to their environment and way of life and were really debating how our needs have changed over time. I was so taken aback by their passion, by their sincerity, one student pointed out the irony of industries built to destroy and rebuild for economic gain. What?! in Grade 6?? Their maturity and expertise is partly connected to their exceptional teacher Ms Hall, and to the quality of education being afforded to them, including a great community to live in, but this really was a moment that made me realize how much I appreciate what I do for a living and how I am learning from students too. These are smart and capable humans and I get to spend time with them every week!

I thanked this class as the end of our session. From the bottom of my heart. For being so open, for being so thoughtful, for caring so much about things and for sharing with me. I am incredibly honoured to know and connect with these students who give me inspiration and hope for a future that is ran by these fired up, fast thinking and caring individuals.