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Inquiring into Waste and Our World

by Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park

Our Grade 4 classes have spent the past three months inquiring into the topic of "Waste and Our World" with the goal of developing an appreciation and understanding of their roles and responsibilities as global citizens of this environmentally fragile and increasingly endangered planet. We had hoped that our inquiry would help students feel empowered to sustain environmentally conscious action as part of their everyday lives.

Our first mission was to collect garbage from the school ground. Students were shocked to discover that we had collected over 4lbs of lunch-related waste in one day and that this amount was repeated by the following class the next day! This activity made it clear that action for the environment was needed and could have a very real effect in our immediate community. As a group, we concluded that one minute public service announcements highlighting a need for change in our daily practices would be the best way to inform our school peers and inspire action.

In order to build understanding and knowledge prior to designing their PSA's, students worked through a variety of tasks which included:
  • creating a decomposition timeline using human waste collected in the immediate area
  • discussing the composition of various human waste items and the factors affecting their breakdown
  • digitally documenting human waste samples from our school grounds
  • completing a retrieval chart with hypotheses on their specimen's origin and ultimate destination
Once students had a good understanding of the impact our human waste can have on the environment, we turned our attention to natural waste and consideration of how our natural world discards, reuses and recycles. As part of our exploration we:
Armed with a new understanding of how human and natural waste fit in our world, students watched some exemplar PSAs and advertisements aimed at communicating powerful environmental messages. We then worked together to build a rubric outlining what exemplary work might look like!

Lots to improve, keep working/trying.
You’re okay but...

Good job, met expectations


Boring and meaningless facts! Used only a single source. Copied!
Partially researched, lacking information, “is that it?” incomplete
Well researched, descriptive, relevant.
Interesting and helpful facts! Engaging! Has obviously used multiple sources. Original and in own words.
Uses “tired” words. Lacks description. Information is unclear. Off topic and confusing. Unconvincing. Audience is bored...
Unconvincing, “I’m confused”
Sufficient, concise, competent, clear message.
Uses juicy words. Descriptive. Is clear on the facts. On topic and makes sense. Persuasive. Exciting - captivates the audience’s attention.
Inappropriate, fuzzy, irrelevant, unrealistic, doesn’t go with the subject/script/topic
Unpleasant, may not be appropriate to message
Appropriate, pleasing, satisfying
Realistic! Relevant! Memorable! Detailed! Appropriate! Clear! Interesting!
Lacks expression, boring, mumbly, too quiet or too loud, “notalkinglikethis” and “no.... talking.... like.... this.....”
A little mumbly, a hard time following, needs practice
Clear, nice, good expression.
Lots of expression, enthusiastic, good volume, enunciated well, speaks at a great pace
Making one person do all the work, “me first”, arguing, fighting, using only one person’s idea, nobody is cooperating, bossing, all talking at once, “my idea is better”, not sharing
Inefficient, needs help and support, argumentative
Nice to people, shares, demonstrates positive body language
Cooperative, inclusive, everybody has a voice, communicative, compromising, taking turns, incorporating everyone’s ideas, on task, “you first” mentality

FInally, students supplemented what they had learned with the info on their retrieval sheets and internet resources to create one-page storyboards communicating their ideas effectively and concisely. Once their storyboards had been approved, they worked in collaborative groups to add voice to their own images creating short movies highlighting differences between human and natural waste and the impact they both have on our world.

Students had the opportunity to showcase their first products in front of their classmates, after which they were provided with constructive feedback that was related to the rubric and based on the work. Throughout this process, students learned how to give feedback as well as how to receive it, and use it to improve. They were able to learn by reflecting on the work they and their classmates had created, and were then given an opportunity to use what they'd learned to refine their final movie project.

Here's an overview of the process:

Of the 22 projects, our group selected the best of the best to represent our learning and the message we hope to convey. Please help us get the word out by commenting below, sharing your feedback and your ideas on how we might be able to share these with a broader audience. Thanks for listening!

Student Exemplar 1: Nature Killers!

Student Exemplar 2: Think About the Future

See more examples of student PSAs here


Maureen said...

Awesome movie and critical thinking!

Garry McKinnon said...

Amy and Deirdre,

What a great activity for promoting an awareness of the impact of natural and human waste and the role of students as environmental, global citizens! You demonstrate the importance of building a foundation of understanding and knowledge before exploring the impact of human and natural waste in and around the school setting and in the students' daily lives. The rubric which you developed with your students clearly outlines expectations for the learning activities. The video clips providing an overview of the process and the student exemplars are powerful! I appreciate how you openly share and celebrate this learning experience and invite others to provide feedback and become involved. Garry McKinnon

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