Spaceship Earth: day 3

On day 3 of my Spaceship Earth class at Peace Village Newberg last week, we focused on water, soil, and pollution (see also day 1 and day 2). We watched the second part of the Stunning Views – From Earth to Universe and Back Again video. In the first part, it zooms out so that you eventually get a view of the whole “known” (or at least theorized) universe, while in the second part it zooms in so you see cells, DNA, atoms, and all the way down to quarks. So on this day, we focused on tiny things on our own planet and how they help Spaceship Earth function, and what happens when we manipulate those tiny particles to be destructive to our “spaceship” rather than helpful. (Our photographer didn’t make it around to my class on this day, unfortunately, so no fun pictures! But scroll down for more of our compost, recycling, and trash stats.)

For this day, I did a different lesson plan for the 2nd-3rd graders and the 4th-6th graders. For the younger class we focused on the water cycle and the tiny life forms that help decompose organic matter and that form part of the food chain that keeps healthy water and terrestrial ecosystems functioning. In the older class we got a little bit into environmental justice, paying attention to pollution, who suffers most from pollution, and how we contribute to either the healthy or unhealthy functioning of our ecosystems based on what we use and how we dispose of it. If we want our air, water, and soil to cycle well in our spaceship, should we put harmful chemicals into these natural systems? If we were on a spaceship with just a few people would we think it was OK to give some people most of the food and other resources and others very few? No. So on this spaceship, the same principle applies. We recognize that the whole spaceship needs to be running well in order for each of us to be healthiest, and keeping the spaceship running well requires attention to both the large entities and the small ones.

After the “Stunning Views” video, with the younger kids we watched this very catchy video with a Water Cycle Song, talked about the water cycle, read a book called Water Can Be…, and then looked at pond water under a microscope. While they took turns looking at what was in the microscope, the other kids drew what they had seen in the microscope in their field journals and/or colored pages with the water cyclesoil microbes, and water protozoa. They could also choose to look at books on the topics of water and soil. This basically took the whole time, since they had many comments about the water cycle and what we can use water for. The kids really enjoyed this, although I did learn that this age of kids is a little young for using a microscope. The first several kids wanted to immediately touch the microscope, and then I had to adjust the settings again because they moved it away from what I had had ready for them to view. I asked them not to touch and just to look, and they still had a really hard time not touching! I had to adjust the microscope between each kid, but I think it was still a profitable experience for them.

With the older kids, after the “Stunning Views” video we watched the videos “10 Most Polluted Places” and the first several minutes of “CNN: Here’s How Flint’s Water Crisis Happened.” We talked about how pollution messes up the ecosystems of the water, soil, and air by putting heavy metals and other toxins into contact with people and other animals, and killing things farther down the food chain that then disrupts the lives of the mammals and fish we can see more easily. We looked at pond water through the microscope. While other kids looked through the microscope, the other kids did the activities mentioned above: drew the protozoa in their field journals, colored, or read books. This group of kids loved looking through the microscope and drawing what they saw, and they were a better age for the activity.

Once everyone had a chance to look in the microscope we did an activity to show the global distribution of wealth. I printed off 100 pieces of Monopoly money and grouped the students and counselors into 5 groups. I gave the groups funds based on the champagne glass image of the global distribution of wealth (such as this image). This probably would have been more effective if I would have had 1000 bills rather than 100, or maybe beans or coins instead so they’d be more visually helpful, because I had to give each of the bottom three groups 2 bills each, which wasn’t really accurate or as meaningful. At any rate, then I gave 12 to the fourth group, and I gave 50 bills to the one person at the top, then distributed the other 32 bills roughly evenly between the rest of the people in the top group. I asked them questions about how they all felt about this, and what they noticed. I asked them which group of people was most likely to have access to clean water.

At that point we ran out of time, but I also would have liked to ask them how each group might think about solving problems of pollution in their community. It’s my hunch that probably the groups at the bottom would suggest a communal or socialist solution, where they would either suggest that the rich people help pay to clean up the mess, or that the community works together to chip in to fix the problem, while the richer groups would have just paid for bottled water and such. I would like to see if these responses come out naturally in these groups in a similar way to what we see in society at large. Then I’d ask them to switch places so that the poorer people were at the higher end of the financial spectrum and see if they would do things differently based on their experience of being poor.

I forgot in yesterday’s post to show the update on the compost, trash, and recycling numbers, so I’ll show results for both day 2 and day 3 here. I was really surprised how much the older group got into these stats! They were excited to see them every day, and they were helpful in making sure that compost didn’t go into the trash. Some of them were even pulling compost and recyclables out of the trash and putting them in the appropriate places.

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