Experience Sustainability

Submitted & Written by Michael Frankfort @mfrank_76
Elementary Teacher, York Region District School Board, STAO Blog Contributor, Sci-Fi Geek

This past spring, I had the opportunity to present a webinar for the Ontario Teachers’ Federation called ‘Building Nature Connections: How to Organize an Eco-Fair at your School’. This presentation is based on a resource that I co-created with another colleague Teresa Huang for the STAO. Teresa and I work for the York Region District School Board (YRDSB). Links to the resources can be found below:

STAO Experience Sustainability Resource Link

STAO Experience Sustainability Resource Secondary Link (Above link may not work on all browsers)

The webinar discussed about the steps in the journey of a student-focused and inquiry-led eco-fair project. We explored ways to engage students from an ecological and environmental perspective in the creation of student inquiry projects. Through an inquiry model-based approach, it was my goal to have the participants take on the role of students to tap into their own curiosity about what environmental issues are important to them. When we (students, teachers, and other educators) started this journey, we really had no idea what it was going to look like and didn’t even think that it would span over the course of more than one year.
Even though the STAO resource is based on Grade 8 expectations, you can easily modify the tasks for any grades, however, recommendations would be Grades 4-10. Links on the resource page include a short instructional video, an overview of the resource itself, and downloadable documents that you can use right away and/or modify for the learning needs of your students and your own instructional pedagogy. Please note that the expectations within are based on the previous Ontario Science & Technology Curriculum, so you would need to update those elements.

We began this journey with an idea to hold some kind of eco-fair for students, families and the local community for at least one school. This was an initial conversation with myself and then Outdoor Education Resource Teacher and now Outdoor Education Curriculum Consultant Gina (Georgina) Marucci (YRDSB) and it ignited a spark for us to make this happen at the school I was working at in Markham. We connected with then Science & Technology/Eco-Schools Curriculum Consultant Nathalie Rudner (YRDSB) who jumped at the chance to engage in this project and had just the right idea to tap into some government funding. We applied to this funding as well as a few others (such as Learning For A Sustainable Future…featured in the slide deck and video links below).

Teresa was the Grade 8 Geography teacher and I was the Grade 8 Science & Technology teacher, so we looked for ways to see where the curriculum connected and engaged our students in some deep dives with regards to a variety of media texts that took different perspectives on environmental sustainability and climate change (one such video is an interview with independent scientist James Lovelock). By encouraging questioning and curiosity, students came up with environmental solutions that they wanted to solve which ranged from ocean oil spills to how to educate people to sort their trash, recycling and green wastes properly. Students worked in smaller groups, embarked on some guided research, created a cool poster board, and an interactive ‘exhibit’.

Nathalie, Gina and I organized the larger aspects of the eco-fair which included inviting other schools to attend, connecting with educational environmental organizations to host a booth, book bus transportation, creating a schedule, communications with all teachers in the school board, and organizing after school workshops for educators and community members to attend after school. The day schedule was mostly focused on the students that attended the school with some other local schools joining, and the after school schedule was open to the entire school board. This model continued at the other four schools in consecutive years, however, the focus already remained on student action and student empowerment.

The overall success of this kind of inquiry-based student focused eco-fair provided a much needed refresher to the ‘traditional’ kinds of science fair projects. It wasn’t about who could win the best prize or to be judged as every project was featured and had some kind of interactive component. It was about students’ abilities to have passion about something they could relate to and how they could communicate that with others in this kind of way. The project also demonstrates the important of cross-curricular connections of subjects for students and that we can evoke change in small ways initially and then it can go way beyond.

HERE is a link to the Google Slides Presentation

HERE is a link to the Webinar Information

HERE is a link to the Video