Earth Week, our impact, and a bit of fun on the side

In Innovation Lab last week we celebrated Earth Day, Earth Week, and Arbor Day by thinking about our impact on the world and then thinking about innovative to reduce negative impacts on the world.


We started with a brief discussion of climate change, reminding students that living things get used to climate, and then have a hard time adjusting to quick changes in climate.  We also talked about how the addition of carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) to the atmosphere is one way that humans are causing climate change.  We made the point to distinguish between natural cycles of carbon (say, plants and animals breathing in and out or carbon within a food web) and rapid introductions of carbon to the atmosphere caused by human activities such as driving.


We then used a fun online tool found at to calculate the amount of carbon that students send up into the air through their activities.  Since it was a beautiful day we were using the computer outside – which was not the best choice given the many outdoor distractions – but we estimated that driving 2 miles to school everyday would put 647 kg of carbon dioxide into the air every year.  Other relevant calculations that I brought to the class were the following – Taking the bus to school 2 miles every day = 206 kg; Watching TV for 1 hour every day = 33 kg; and Using a computer 1 hour every day = 14 kg; and Walking or riding a bike to school = 0 kg – Carbon Dioxide into the air every year.  Note that these are estimates that were used to generate ideas and discussion and should not be taken as absolute truth.


We then talked about ways that humans can help reduce climate change.  In honor of Arbor Day, we discussed how trees play a role in removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the ground.  We then estimated the height of a tree using a meter stick and pencil and measured the diameter of a pine tree on the school grounds.  Using another online tool created by Rainforest Alliance, we then estimated that the tree stores 162 kg of Carbon.  We concluded that planting trees and vegetation would be a good way to help remove Carbon from the air.  We also learned that humans can have a real impact by planting trees – on the first Arbor Day in the United States, celebrated in 1872 in Nebraska, people planted over a million trees.


We then let loose and had some play-based learning on the playground.  First we learned about energy, realizing that our own motion creates energy that is wasted.  We learned that there are already technologies in the world to capture the energy from human motion, and learned about one estimate that each step we take generates enough power to light one 60-watt lightbulb for 1 second. The students then ran around the playground, having fun, and counting their steps.  We calculated that by running around for 3 minutes, the 6 students in class could power a 60-watt lightbulb for 21 minutes!


This was a great example of the iSchool approach: mixing science, technology, math, play, and compassion for others into a fun, hands-on lesson.  And it was entirely outdoors!