Earth Day

Earth Day

Next to Christmas and my birthday, my favorite day of the year is Earth Day!

I found out about it for the first time in college through a wonderful science methods professor that I had, Dr. John Beaver. Since then, I have always made a point to teach environmental awareness every day, but to also take time to celebrate Earth Day with some special activities.

Through the years of my teaching, we’ve cleaned up school grounds, planted trees, made landfill models and did a year long rainforest unit culminating in a giant replica rainforest with a fundraiser to save acres of the Amazon.

Now, more than ever, I feel the focus in classrooms (even those that are now virtual!) is on sustainability and alternative energy sources.

I am going to share some my top 5 ways to teach about the environment as well as what not to do.

  • Start with the basics—teaching the 3R’s. The topics of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle have been around for as long as there has been Earth Day, and it is a great place to start.  The difference I am seeing now is the focus on the 3R’s as being a hierarchy, with reducing our waste as the most important, then reusing items whenever possible, to finally recycling what is left. Recycling is extremely important, but really should be considered the last resort after reducing as much as possible and reusing what we can.
  • Here are two of my favorite reuse projects using commonly found household items—toilet paper or paper towel tubes and bubble wrap.
    1. Toilet paper roll napkin rings—One way to reduce waste is to use cloth napkins that you can just wash and reuse many times and these napkin rings add to the festive look while also keeping the tube out of the trash. For these, I cut a standard toilet paper tube in thirds and wrapped with washi tape. You could use duct tape, scrapbook paper, or whatever you have on hand. And then I just slipped it on the napkin—easy peasy! These would look great on your dinner table tonight!
    2. Bubble wrap hopscotch–Use some leftover packaging from an online order (bubble wrap), a sharpie, and some painters tape to make this fun outdoor or indoor game. Cut the bubble wrap (if needed-some of mine was just the right size already) into squares.  Turn it over to the flat side and use a Sharpie to draw the numbers—remember to draw them backwards so that when you turn it over they are going in the right direction! Once you are finished, tape it to your floor with painter’s tape or to your sidewalk with duct tape to prevent slipping or the board blowing away.  My daughter put ours on the driveway. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was upside down! 1 should be closest and so on up to 10) Look up the rules online for how to play hopscotch and let your kiddos hop and pop away!
    3. Look for more fun ideas on my Instagram—(Your Teaching Mentor)
  • Be a smart shopper! When I cleaned off our desk area to prepare for it to be my new online teaching space, I found a ton of old pens, markers, glue sticks etc. I organized them into cute bins so that when we need something we know right where it to find it and not rush out to the store to by another one.  When the time comes to replenish items, make smart environmental choices—you can get pencils made from old blue jeans and pens made from recycled water bottles now.
  • Watch videos or listen to songs to learn more about environmental issues. I found a fascinating video about how recycling is changing right now called “Why the United States Is Turning To Recycling Robots” You can find it here.

    I would say this is a good video for third grade on up.  For the younger kiddos, Mr. Eco has lots of great songs/videos about important environmental concepts (also on YouTube).

  • I am sure it is no surprise that my last suggestion is to read a book. There are tons of great new books out there that I need to check out but some of my favorites are:
    1. Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
    2. The Earth Trilogy (Touch the Earth, Heal the Earth, and Love the Earth) by Julian Lennon
    3. City Green, by DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan (This book inspired a huge inquiry project about recycling milk cartons in my class).
    4. Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child and Bridget Hurst
    5. 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World by Melanie Walsh
    6. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
    7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Now that I have given you a start on how to celebrate Earth Day with your students, here’s what I wouldn’t do:

Send families links to print reams of paper for a recycling coloring book, or worksheets matching the trash to the right recycling bin. 

While there is some educational value in some of these things, you are really just adding to the problem with these types of activities.  If you want to teach kids about recycling, invite a local waste management person in to speak to the class (or now that we are virtual, see if they could join your Zoom or Google Meet). 

If you want to them to know how sort trash, have them collect real trash from the playground or other area and sort it accordingly.  I hope these ideas have given you some fun ways to think about Earth Day. For more ideas, check out my Instagram (especially the stories!) for more ideas!



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Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Want to know the best way I have found to curb excess talking? How about the most equitable and easy way I found to handle classroom jobs? These two seemingly small changes made a huge impact in my classroom!

Let’s talk about ways to curb the chatting first, shall we?

Every morning, each student got 3 bands. I used the hair ties that came in packs of 100 for $1 at Dollar Tree and just kept them in a tin I had from a gift I had received years ago!

I bought 5-6 packs at the beginning of the year and that usually lasted us the entire year—you could even think about putting them on your supply list or wish list for your classroom.  Invariably, I would have some break, or accidentally go home with a child. They also just wore out after a while—at 100 for $1, they aren’t necessarily the highest quality item you will find!

Here’s how the idea works:

The students could wear them on their wrist, keep them on their nametags, supply boxes, or whatever you choose. Each time they blurt out, they put one back in the container we keep them in.

I even developed a nonverbal cue to let them know that they had lost a band, so that I didn’t have to disrupt my teaching.  I would make eye contact with them and just tap my wrist and then point to the tin where the bands were kept.

This way I could keep going with what I was doing, and they simply got up and put the band back in the tin.  They knew right where it was kept (for me it was right on top of our mailboxes, so it was easily accessible, and they saw it often) and they could do that without any further disruption.

In over 20 years of teaching, I had tried several things, but this was by far the one that worked the best for me. It’s great because it’s a visual reminder for the kids, and this way you can be sure you have given them 3 warnings first before giving a more serious consequence. Win/win in my book!!!

The other so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-think-of-it-sooner hack is how I handled classroom jobs.

It was another classroom “chore” that I tried multiple ways of managing before I finally settled on a great, easy solution.  When I was first teaching I had only a few jobs, but kids felt left out because only a few students ever got to help.

Then I purchased a pre-made bulletin board kit, but their jobs didn’t meet my needs.  Then I came up with a list of jobs so that every child had a job that I was changing every week.  Except that I would often forget.

I had students complain that some jobs were almost never used, while others were used multiple times a day.  There was even a year where I thought I would tie persuasive writing to the class jobs, so that kids could convince me that they were the right person for the job.

All in all, no matter what approach I took, it was just a headache that I never looked forward to dealing with until I came up with the idea that I will share with you here.

Some of you may already be familiar with Tara West and her blog Little Minds at Work.

She has tons of great ideas for primary grades.  She did a blog post with a printable for a “Lucky Duck.”  She used it to choose a mystery student for staying on task.

However, one day when I was particularly frustrated with jobs and kids complaining about them, I decided to make my “Lucky Duck” the helper for the day.  So each day, during our morning meeting, I pulled one stick and that person was the person who did any job that was needed that day—passing out papers or other materials, helping with calendar (this was a kindergarten classroom), taking things to the office or to other teachers, etc.

If I needed more than one person to help, I just had the Lucky Duck from the previous day fill that position so that there were no arguments.  Once I had selected the Lucky Duck, I put the stick back in the jar with the duck side down, so I knew that student had been selected.  Once all the sticks were duck side down, I knew everyone had had a turn and I could flip them over and start again.  Something else I thought of on my third year making them, that I will save you right now from making the same mistake, is that I just put numbers on the sticks instead of names.  This way they are reusable from year to year.  Just match the number on the stick with your student’s number on your roster. Easy peasy.

Both ideas were simple, low prep and effective while making my teaching life easier and more streamlined.  I hope they are as helpful for you!


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