For the last several years I’ve been showing Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” whenever I teach climate science to my students. I find it is interesting for them to think about where our “stuff” comes from and what happens to it. This unit usually takes place for us close to the holiday season, when we run an interdisciplinary project entitled Charity Fair. This is an incredibly busy time of year at our school since Charity Fair requires that students complete different components of this project in each of their content areas. However, Science, the class I teach, does not always fit well with the scope of the project, which mainly covers issues addressed in the social studies classroom.
Two years ago, as I was wrapping up the climate science unit and heading into Charity Fair, I thought about having students figure out the transportation carbon footprint for the products they were creating for Charity Fair. For the first time it fit relatively nicely and I hoped that this would become our science Charity Fair staple so I would not have to continue to figure it out from scratch each year.
We ran the project that year, and while the science component was better than the previous year, we had a lot of hiccups as the students tried to gather their data to calculate the carbon footprint of their products. This component created so much frustration that I scrapped it last year and we created instructables for their products instead.
Then I took the Making Interactive Maps course on KQED Teach. As I was learning about creating interactive maps, I was not really thinking about their use in science. I just thought it was cool to learn about, and perhaps share with my social studies and ELA counterparts so they could then use maps to track immigration or characters in a story. The final step of the course was to create a lesson plan. As I thought about creating a lesson plan on something completely unrelated to my content area, I remembered those carbon footprint calculations that we had done two years ago. I decided that I could use all those in and outs of Google Maps that I had learned, teach them to the students, and have them develop “carbon footprint maps,” which would eliminate the biggest hurdle we had faced—figuring out the mileage for each component. So I wrote and posted the Journey of Stuff lesson plan for KQED Teach, tweaking it to make it a little more generic than what I would eventually use for Charity Fair.
Creating their own Google Maps
The students at AdVENTURE spend four years in cohorts, and as I mentioned before, we had tried a different version of the carbon footprint assignment, so rather than tell my current 7th and 8th graders that we were going to implement it again and have them become disengaged as they remembered the frustration from our first attempt, I decided to introduce the idea by sharing with them the map I created for KQED Teach. I gave them a couple of minutes to explore the map, inviting them to click on the location pins, hoping that someone would click on the map description. My patience was rewarded when a student called me over and stated the obvious, “Didn’t we do something like this for Charity Fair two years ago?” As her comment spread through the classroom, I knew I had at least some of them.