A key component of my class is for students to understand that the environment is not something "out there" it is a dynamic system of which they are functional parts. Similarly, I want my students to leave this course also understanding that environmental activism isn't just something that other people do, but that their actions have tangible effect on their world. To this end, I have a requirement that students perform at least one type of environmental service per semester.
In the first semester, students had the option of participating in a beach clean up sponsored by Heal the Bay, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on water quality issues in and around Los Angeles. At that time, the planning was more or less already done by me. I connected the students with an activity that I had heard about and they chose to participate or find their own alternative service option.
Although I was aware of similar opportunities in the second semester, I really wanted to increase my students' sense of agency and self-reliance when it came to participating in environmental service. In short, I wanted them to be equipped with the skills to be involved in environmental activism long after they had left my class, rather than just looking back at environmental activism as "that thing we did with my teacher in Environmental Science class."
This lesson, then, focuses on how to help students develop their capacity to find suitable opportunities to perform environmental service.
Connection to the Standards:
In this lesson, students will conduct research to identify an opportunity to participate in solving a problem and then take action to mitigate the effects of human activity on the environment.
I begin the lesson by asking students to share some general ways they could perform environmental service, a class requirement described in my syllabus thusly,
"Environmental service: These actions involve connecting with environmental organizations in your community and could include volunteering to clean up a park or beach, attending a meeting of an environmental club or organization, attending a protest or public demonstration related to issues of environmental justice, or attending a screening of an environmental documentary. The idea here is to understand how YOU can be involved in being part of the solution."
Without asking them to dust off their syllabi, I quickly remind students of the different ways they might perform service or activism and then suggest that we will need to find opportunities by doing an internet search.
I then ask students to share some search terms that we could enter into a search engine. As students offer the terms, I write them on the board. As you can see in the photo, students offered a lot of good search terms, both general (such as environment, volunteer, etc.) and specific (beach clean up, Los Angeles, etc.).
Once we have a good list of search terms for students to consider, I ask students to either use their smartphones or a class computer and begin searching for opportunities to perform service.
Once we have completed the warm up, I distribute the Environmental Service Plan worksheet. On this sheet, it asks students to fill in the relevant details of an opportunity they have found where they could perform environmental service.
I ask students to be very specific in details such as location and how they will get to that location so that students actually have a clear way to perform the service. Especially with students in cities, they may not have vehicles or adequate public transportation options to get to the sometimes remote locations where service can be performed.
During the time students are working on locating an opportunity for service and completing their environmental service plan, I walk around the room offering help when it's asked for but also checking in frequently with groups so that I can share some of their discoveries with the whole class, or with other groups when I check in with them individually. I keep track of some of the better opportunities and keep note of them to write on the board towards the end of class.
With about 15 minutes left in class, I write 3-4 opportunities for service happening in the next few weeks that are easily accessible to most students via public transportation. I tell students that if they haven't made their own plan already, they may want to commit to one of the opportunities listed on the board.
The idea with this whole lesson is for me to help guide students to not only find an opportunity to perform service, but to make a concrete plan to manage the logistics of actually arriving at the location and performing the service. Without a plan, it's much less likely that they'll end up participating, regardless of their initial enthusiasm.
In the last 5-10 minutes of class, I check that students have completed a service plan and make sure they have all parts of the plan complete and fully considered so that they can actually make good on their plan. If everything checks out, I record a grade for them. If for some reason a student isn't done with their plan, I ask that they complete the plan as homework and show it to me on the next class meeting.
The final part of this lesson is for students to reflect on their experience of performing environmental service or activism and necessarily occurs after the day of the lesson. To guide their reflection, I provide students with a service reflection prompt. (I actually print this on the back of the environmental service plan worksheet, as both worksheets fit two to a side, that way I can give two students both worksheets using only one sheet of paper)
I ask students to provide two things when turning in the reflection: the written reflection itself and a photo documenting their service. The preferred way for them to complete their work, then, is to send me an email containing the typewritten reflection with the picture attached. For those students that find this to be too difficult (or just haven't yet gotten into the habit of submitting work digitally), they can turn in a handwritten reflection and just show me their picture on their phone. In the event that they don't have a picture, I ask for some written documentation such as the signature of a supervising adult at the service opportunity. Most students prefer to simply submit the picture.
This part of the lesson occurs at different times for different students, as this requirement can be fulfilled at any point in the semester. However, to make sure that students don't wait so long that they don't complete their service, I set a deadline for their actual service to be completed no later than two weeks before the class final. Hopefully this creates a greater sense of urgency if they know they stand to get no credit for this course requirement. The two week deadline is pragmatic: a lot of the opportunities need some advance planning and it's not always possible to wait until the last minute and complete service.
Even though I set a public deadline, I usually let students know individually that I will accept their reflection up until the end of the semester. Again, the idea here is to encourage students to develop a desire to actually perform environmental service and be "part of the solution" beyond their time in my class and I therefore don't want to turn anyone off of environmental service by being too draconian in my grading of this course requirement.