Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Food (Waste) for Thought?

I could give next week the label of "ISKL Digester Week" but I'm not sure that anyone would relate to it very well. So instead, I will just make note of the fact that from October 29 to 31 our Melawati campus will be part of a new sustainable development.  By the end of next week we hope to welcome our very own composter!  How completely exciting, no?  I know what you're thinking right about now. "What in the world is a composter?"  It's a valid question. The answer might impress you.

The organization assisting us in setting up the digester, Drive Change, is one that works with a number of sustainable projects in the region. For this particular project we have been through two months of meetings, data collection (specifically with food waste at Melawati), design and now, finally, implementation. Once the digester is functional it will do the following:
  • Accept food and water waste from the Melawati Cafeteria - This will reduce Melawati waste by 9000 kg annually!
  • Go through a passive process of biogas generation from the food waste
  • Create biogas to be re-used in the kitchen for cooking
  • Create fertilizer for planting and gardening (we'll have plenty for everyone!)
But that's not all. The digester will also be used for on-the-spot teaching. The fifth grade students are currently covering a unit on energy and the digester allows a fortuitous teachable moment, so to speak. Our fifth graders will be given tours of the area not only when the digester is completed, but throughout the construction process. If a visit to Mrs. Williams' room on Tuesday was any indication, they will be thrilled to see how it works and what it looks like.  We are hoping the students will get to see the plans, look on as the construction takes place and, of course, recognize the benefits of the final result. 

I am not sure that the digester will be an impressive structure to look at. It may or may not make the Melawati campus tour "must see" list either. It's location (next to the compost site) might minimize the opportunity for the average campus stroller to run into it. But it will, none-the-less, be an excellent source of sustainable design. 

As the world continues to recognize the benefits of reduced consumption and waste patterns, it is important that our students not only talk about it, but have a tangible example to study and understand.  This isn't the kind of learning tool that you can leave in your closet. It's not the type of educational resource that you let gather dust. It's a functional, solution-based opportunity to let our students into little secrets with real life implications. What does it teach them? No, we don't need to generate waste just to be an excellent school. Not all waste is treated equally. We can do things - right here and now - to take care of this place. It is, after all, The Melawati Way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Power of Service Learning

This past weekend I had the good fortune to make my way to the Jakarta International School and attend a workshop entitled Service Learning for Humanity and the Environment conducted by a front-runner in the world of service learning, Cathryn Berger-Kaye. It was one of those workshops that has direct implications on teaching and which empower you, as the participant, to walk away thinking that "wow, I can make the world a better place with this"!  

But even in this setting, with all of us service learning believers, conversations came up that could well have been placed in faculty meetings. Thoughts about whether this was a good model for higher level coursework (IB, for example) or whether using this model of educational approach would somehow sacrifice curriculum. Time and time again Cathryn put our concerns at ease by explaining exactly how the service learning format can be used from our prep reception all the way to our HL IB courses (Hint: According to Cathryn, the "IB people" love this!). The concept is simple. Put mindful, solution-based action at the forefront of learning. 

It's an empowering prospect. How many teachers would disagree that doing this is a more powerful teaching tool than traditional classroom-based learning. Every teacher training course instructs pre-service teachers to do what they can to "make it real" and to allow students a chance to recognize the age old "why do I need to know this"?  Service learning is essentially a way to get students to marry their skills and interests with community problems in a way that allows them to be part of the solution. 

The process is straight forward when you first look at it. Exactly at the center of the visual used to represent service learning is the word "curriculum" where the entire process begins.  A circular diagram of clockwise aiming arrows joining concepts surrounding "curriculum" includes "investigation", "planning" and "action". Between every one of those three steps are nestled the terms "reflection" and "demonstration" adding to the importance of those particular elements to ensuring a solid educational process. It is important to note, however, that service learning can be applied to many settings. It can be done in the classroom, in organized trips (like GAP and Malaysia Week) or within the context of clubs. What makes it powerful is the process. 

None of these words are new. The concept seems so simple. Yet the end result can be so powerful.   Time and time again examples were shared of students making positive change in their communities. Time and time again the participating teachers were impressed with the power of student thinking and the variability of solutions that students can find in addressing community concerns. 

Why does this matter to ISKL?  Well, apart from my position being established, we are all on board with the concept that 21st century skills (our SLRs are based on many of them) are important to being successful in life. The new educational paradigm is that students actually address problems here and now. Why study about them from a book and come up with hypothetical situations when you are actually able (and so often willing) to do something about them now? Whether it's the environment, social inequality or health-related issues (note the strong connection to ESD) students are being asked to come up with solutions in their future. The best way for them to make a difference is for them to try and try again. Even failure is success sometimes, because it allows one to re-evaluate, to reflect, and to address an issue from a different angle. This is what service learning has the power to provide in our students.

The world's adult population is a sign of how people can be successful. Imagine how successful the world would be if students were allowed the possibility to engage here and now. It brings solutions into the hands of so many more people. It empowers us all. It generates the realization that, yes, every one of us is part of the change we want to see in the world. It also allows our students to recognize the power in themselves to make positive change and, in so doing, makes them better world citizens: Our mission as a school.

Monday, October 1, 2012

From Green Pages to Sustainable ISKL: A New Website Arrives!

For a few year's now we've come to know the Green Pages as the portal for all things "green" at ISKL. It has served us well and has been an excellent resource for our community. With the passage of time, and with my position changing from Environmental Coordinator to Sustainability Coordinator it was felt appropriate to also change the name of the Green Pages to Sustainable ISKL.

You'll find that the site is largely the same, though it already has a few subtle differences in format and style. Over the next year and beyond work will continue on things sustainable on our campuses and, with that, you can expect that the site itself will become an even bigger source of information and resources. 

So, what's in that Sustainable ISKL website anyway?  The first thing to remember is that it's an internal site, so finding it from outside the ISKL cyberspace will require you to sign into your ISKL account. Once there, though, there is some pretty good stuff.  The site is divided, for your reference, into sections as below:
    • Welcome page
    • Vision & Goals
    • Environmental Indicators (how we know how we're doing)
    • ESD (Education for Sustainable Development)
    • Earth Week
    • Eco Schools
    • Archives (for older information)
    • Calendar
    • Blog
    • Green Council
    • Teach & Learn (resources for teachers & students)
    • Useful Links (nature trips, organizations, etc.)
The site, of course, also features links to our environmental and sustainable clubs on campus as well as our environmental initiatives. Expect those too to be updated and new initiatives shared on an ongoing basis!

We hope the Sustainable ISKL will be a clear indication of ISKL's commitment to sustainability in how we function, how we teach, how we behave and in the decisions we make each and every day. Naturally we would be thrilled to have your feedback and comments on the sites form and function, thoughts on how to make it better and any additional ideas you might have!