Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Sage Advice: Everyday Environmental Activism

How green is your classroom?

October 3, 2007

I start the school year off with a "sustainable pencilchallenge." Students must use the same refillable penor pencil all year. In the beginning of the year, I takea picture of each student with his or her pencil or pen.Then, throughout the year, I ask students to show metheir sustainable pencils. Each student who is still using it gets his or her picture on the wall in the back of the classroom.Those who have their sustainable pencil the last weekof school will get to share in an outside lunch togetherwith me.

Dan Gross
Science teacher
Valleyview Middle School
Denville, New Jersey

My classroom and organic gardenare green as they come! With ahuge skylight, we hardly use thelights, and a big tub in my classroomsink lets us catch our graywaterfor the garden. Outside, we vermicompostour school's food wasteand use the by-products to feedour plants.

Jillian Esby
Science teacher
St. Matthew's Parish School
Pacific Palisades, California

Our goal is waste-free lunches. I teach my studentsabout choosing packaging that can be recycled orreused. We rinse out containers that cannot be recycledand use them for art or in our "Invention Box."

Laurie Nakauchi-Hawn
Kindergarten/first-grade teacher
Friends' School
Boulder, Colorado

No classroom is green enough. Off-white walls, tan carpet, and no windows for safety are greatfor the school district, but not for learning. I try to bring in lots of plants and have some growing aroundthe aquarium. We talk about science, but we do not have classrooms that inspire sciencewithout a lot of extra work from the teachers.

Virginia Boatman
Mesa Elementary School
Clovis, New Mexico

I am your typical teacherwith a paper recycling box inmy class next to the garbagecan. The student councilregularly picks it up.

Jon Swanson
Social studies teacher
Gretna High School
Gretna, Nebraska

Students take paperlesstests and quizzes on theircomputers. Research papers are sent viaemail or SynchronEyes, a program thatallows file sharing. Students use tablet PCsto complete classwork, homework, andeven virtual science-lab activities.

Joseph Ferriero
Biology and genetics teacher
DePaul Catholic High School
Wayne, New Jersey

When classes are doingresearch, I encourage theteachers to have their students savetheir work to the teacher's folder onour network drive instead of havingstudents print out everything.Eventually, when the students havecompleted their research and writetheir reports, they may again putthese in the teacher's online folder.Teachers can access the studentwork online, read it, and check itwithout ever having the studentprint it out. It saves paper and ink.

Lorrie Katsimpalis
Library media specialist
Fairhope Middle School
Fairhope, Alabama

We use recycled paper, and I have arecycling bin for old exercises andpaperwork. We also recycle newspapers from our reading exercises,and lights are always turned off when not in use.

Anne Hester
English III and IV
Riverdale High School
Fort Myers, Florida

I am a principal of a K-6 school with 291 children. We recycle paper, plastic, steel and aluminum cans, glass, and printer cartridges. We send our printer cartridges to a place where the rebate money goes to a school in need in Mississippi. We sell our cans. We compost at lunchtime and also compost shredded paper. We plant trees every year. We take a lot of pride in our school. We think green is the only way to go!

Elgan Carter
Westwood Elementary School
New Castle, Indiana

Students are encouraged to bring lunch and snacks in reusable containers instead of disposable. If they use baggies we try to reuse and then recycle them. Students use both sides of papers before recycling them. We have a scrap bin for construction paper pieces so they can be used in later projects. We re-use materials that cannot be recycled and keep them in a center we call Creation Station. Our lights have motion sensors. We take care of plants in our classroom. Most importantly, we regularly discuss conservation and environmental choices so this becomes a way of life for the next generation.

Fleur Zahner
First grade teacher
Beverly Elementary
Beverly Hills, Michigan

My first grade classroom is literally green thanks to the trailing plants that I have growing across the ceiling, the potted tree in the center of the room, and the many other house plants on the window sill. Not only do these plants look great and get many positive parent comments, they clean the air of allergens and seem to have a calming effect on the kids. Hopefully, the kids will grow up with a love of, and desire to be surrounded by, all things green.

Ryan Harrington
First grade teacher
Cayuga Heights Elementary
Ithaca, New York

My classroom is not green but the path I have created to my classroom and the area around my classroom are green. Outside of my small school building, only six classrooms, I keep a variety of flowering plants to bring a smile to your face as you wait outside before class. When you walk inside, two tropical plant gardens border the short hallway. Ivies, Defenbachia, non-sticker cacti, red leaves, green leaves, and white grow year-round with the sun shining through the skylights above. Walk out my back door and a container garden greets you to the left and a Texas Native Plant garden beckons you to the right. Always a work in progress, my gardens offer peace and quiet, sometimes looks of wonder as they continue to grow through summer, winter, fall, and spring.

Lucy Condon
Burbank Middle School
Houston, Texas

As a class we are trying to cut down on paper consumption by making items digital. (Here’s some background on our class: 100 percent of students have computers and internet access at home; every student has access to a laptop in class each day.) Instead of printing instruction sheets for each student, I project the instructions on the screen and place a PDF of it on my Web site. If students needs a copy, they can simply download it at home. A previous social studies project took over 1,000 pages to complete. I moved the whole project online and ended up using only twelve sheets of paper.

Steve Burrell
Lawson Middle School
Cupertino, CA

The average nongreen class goes through about 500 pages of paper per student per semester (400 pages of text and 100 pages of handouts and tests). So the average class of 30 students uses 15,000 pages of paper. Imagine if a mere 100 professors teaching 10 classes per year went digital. It would save 15,000,000 pages per year. That's a lot of trees.

My classroom is green and, most importantly, it is a bit greener outside. The class is completely devoid of handouts. No paper syllabi, no paper tests, no paper textbooks, no printed anything, period. It's all digital, even in my face-to-face classes. Let's keep it green outside and keep the trees alive. We use CE6 (Blackboard) to communicate, to read our syllabus, to take multiple-choice and essay quizzes, to submit papers, to take attendance, to post and look up grades, etc. Even my text is fully digital. It has verbal explanations, interactive formulas and graphs, interactive games and Web site links. Today's students like studying via the computer; they can even download the digital text onto their Iphones, Blackberries, or Ipods.

John Bouman
Professor of Economics
Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

I would like to brag about how green our school is.
Last year we recycled 22.2 pounds of material per student for a total of 16.3 tons. Our recycling program is a school effort that is managed by our self-contained special ed classes. The students collect boxes, paper, and plastic everyday throughout the school, separate it, and place it in appropriate bins. This is part of their daily life/work skills training.

Lorie Harden
ESS Department
Southeast High School
Whitfield, Georgia

Chinquapin School, a 6–12 grade college preparatory school for low income students, is committed to teaching students about living sustainably. We do this in the following ways:
1. We have an outdoor classroom that includes 10 square-foot food gardens, a marsh nursery for growing smooth cordgrass to restore nearby marshes, several native plant flower and butterfly gardens, a 400-gallon fish tank to raise catfish for eating, and a nature trail designed and built by students and used by science classes. 2. An environmental science class taken by every senior student with a second semester hands-on project called Protecting Our Watersheds. 3. A math models course taught to seniors called Introduction to Sustainable Design in which one class designed a “green” faculty duplex that is to be built on our campus this year. 4. Recycling of paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and metals as a whole school. 5. Composting of leaves, food, and other organic matter from all over campus and the kitchen. 6. Articles in our weekly newspaper about environmental problems and solutions. 7. Scholarships to summer programs like NOLS, Outward Bound, and the Student Conservation Association. We hope that by being part of these courses and activities, our students will better relate to and appreciate the importance of sustainable living.

Kathy Heinzerling
The Chinquapin School
Highlands, Texas

I teach in a green building with solar panels on the roof; a system that in winter heats incoming cold air with warm air vented from the building; special lighting; water-conserving toilets; recycling; and more. Wherever students, teachers, and guests go in our school building, the importance of conservation is modeled and, increasingly, we are becoming more aware of how easily we can be greener.

William H. Peltz
Seventh grade science teacher
Greenwich Academy
Greenwich, Connecticut

Our green classroom includes the use of fluorescent lighting, clearly-marked recycle bins for paper and plastic items, numerous dry-erase student memo boards to reduce paper usage, and a green-minded teacher serving as an eco-friendly role model for students contemplating everyday choices and actions impacting our environment. The classroom also extends beyond the windows and walls. We utilize the school grounds and local neighborhood for advisory projects, such as planting trees, shrubs, and native plants.

Krista Klaus
Northwoods Community Secondary School
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

In my fourth-grade classroom, we use bar rags instead of paper towels to clean up around the classroom. We use old (but clean) white socks for our whiteboard erasers. We use fluorescent lightbulbs. We recycle paper of all sorts. I raid the teacher workroom for paper that is printed only on one side. I cut it in half and store it in a recycled cardboard box labeled Think Paper. When that paper is all used up, we recycle it in our recycled cardboard box. For science projects, I use old Cool Whip containers, yogurt containers, butter tubs, ice cream tubs, and tuna tins. In fact, my paper clip containers around the classroom are tuna tins. Many of my storage containers are copy paper boxes or shoeboxes. I keep plastic bags to use for all sorts of things, such as sending homework to absent students.

I teach environmental and conservation issues, too. The children are working on a water education unit and they have learned how to conserve water at home. We collected data for members of each family, and submitted our data to an online project called, Down the Drain. We have learned all about ground water, springs, septic tanks, the difference between point source and nonpoint source pollution and how we as individuals can help educate others about it. We learn how to reduce, reuse, and recycle all sorts of household items. We pack lunches with reusable containers. We each have personal water bottles in the classroom that we refill as needed instead of buying bottled water.

All in all, we have a pretty green classroom, and we are proud of it!

Shae Johnson
Associate professor/fourth-grade supervisor
Greenwood Laboratory School
Springfield, Missouri

We are super green in my classroom! We have lots of plants, three recycling bins, a potting bench, and even a vermicomposting (worm) bin. My environmental science class takes care of one of the school flower gardens and the collecting of the recycling for our entire building. The school averages about 1,000 pounds of recycling a month!

Cathy Stierman
Science teacher
Wahlert Catholic High School
Dubuque, Iowa

All room lighting is provided by fluorescent bulbs, not incandescent. We have recycle bins for paper and plastic waste. Students designed and ordered durable/reusable, dishwashersafe, polypropylene drink bottles for selling in our cafeteria to discourage the use of disposable bottles. Profits are to be used to purchase carbon offsets. Furthermore, we're determining more ways in which we can decrease our campus's ecological footprint. To do this, we are currently in the grant-writing process to acquire solar panels and wind turbines.

Spiro Merkouris
Science teacher
Carl Sandburg High School
Orland Park, Illinois

We recently worked with our local energy cooperative to install a solar system. The students monitor our energy production and consumption. They have completed an energy use survey and proposed measures to conserve. Our students compost all leftovers from lunch. We worked with a local service organization and master gardeners to get a donated composter and students did research about what they needed to include for optimal results, including studying soil composition. As an ongoing fundraiser, students will be selling compost to the community. Most staff members walk or ride bikes to school and the school recycles everything. Staff members take turns going to the recycling center. We also only use biodegradable cleaning products in our school.

Erin Fields
Passage Charter School
Montrose, Colorado

Palestine Grade School is heated and cooled by a geothermal system. We are adding solar panels next month. Worms decompose leftover food from the cafeteria in a container that is used for compost. Our custodians are using environmentally friendly cleaning supplies based on hydrogen peroxide. A group of students is recycling paper throughout the district. All of this is included in our curriculum. It is not everything that could be done, but it is a start. Perhaps our small community will learn from our students to be more environmentally friendly.

John L. Hasten
Palestine Community Unit School District #3
Palestine, Illinois

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • K-2 Primary

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.