Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bringing Home Life's Lessons

I'm suspecting that when we were all in high school there was little discussion about sustainability. The Earth and its resources were so far form finite in our eyes that waste was not regarded as a problem and we all clambered to have more than our parents, and they more than theirs and so forth. Along the way we missed some critical learning that we are now trying to catch up with. Choices are an essential part of life that allow for people to establish priorities, determine directionality, make decisions and reflect. If you were like me you probably missed the lesson about ecological footprints. Thankfully our children are getting the education we missed, and bringing it home with them. 

Every few weeks or so I get an update from Rebecca Lemos or Everette Burke, MS Mathematics teachers. Their math 8 Algeo classes have taken on a wonderful environmental unit that lasts the entire year. Here's basically how it works: The students go home and identify an area of sustainability that they would like to focus on . The students, whose blogs grace our ISKL cyber world, follow through by establishing a baseline understanding of what it is that they use at home. The next step is to choose an indicator to follow and gather data. A project on electricity, for example, might use kWh units per month. The task then is to create an action plan on how to become more environmentally (and wallet) friendly with regard to the issue at hand. Continuous reflection as well as using mathematical concepts for ongoing curricular work (e.g. magnification) are an integral part of the process also. Often such actions mean that students need to engage their families in coming up with achievable solutions. 

Through the Algeo 8 environmental project, students are able to go back home and have frank and open discussions about the value or appropriate decisions. They are engaging in collaboration, planning, and systematic higher level thinking. In other words, they are engaging in real life learning and expanding that learning to those around them, the families. This is as powerful as one can expect an education to be and a true testament to the goals of the project through the authentic use of mathematics as an analytical and reflective tool.  From the point of view of service learning and sustainability education, projects such as these highlight the true potential of making learning come to life. 

So if you find your son/daughter sauntering through the door one day and asking you about your family's health habits, flying choices, consumer behavior or anything of that nature don't be alarmed or defensive. Instead celebrate the fact that they are utilizing what education often calls "21st Century Skills"; empowerment, communication, stewardship, collaboration and decision making. It's the kind of thing that - though potentially contentious at times - should fill you with pride in knowing that your child son is headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bio-Diegster Up and (almost) Running!

The new digester has finally been put in place and is "up and running", so to speak. Well, actually it will take close to a month for the gas generated from food waste to generate enough bio gas to provide enough energy for our pancake/omelet burner in Sam's at Melawati, but the hubbub of last week was hard to pass up. 

It's construction really did take a village: 
  • Two visiting experts (one from India and one from Singapore) here to supervise the installation, 
  • Over 15 external workers helping out with cutting, placing measuring, building  attaching and connecting all sorts of tanks and pipes, 
  • A number of ISKL staff members running back and forth ensuring that everything was working, 
  • A very supportive and flexible canteen staff who put up with invasions of their space as deliberations took place, 
  • Several fifth grade classes coming by for quick visits and discussions about what a digester does, how it works, where the food and gas go, making designs and taking pictures (not to mention plans)
The area around the back of the cafeteria was almost busier than the election stations in Florida for Tuesday's elections! But unlike the emotional back-and-forth of the US elections, at ISKL the digester brought with it just euphoria and learning!  

A big big thank you to everyone who participated in the construction, with particular kudos to Krish and his staff, Alex Wong, John Hollenback and the Sam's Snacks cafeteria crew for their support in bringing the project to life!  Though the construction is mostly done (there remains just a bit of gas piping and plumbing to be completed) the process continues as we take baby steps to making it fully functional. During the next three months we will add increasingly more food waste, allowing the bacteria to grow accordingly and deal with the increased food supply. By January we are hoping that the bio-digester will be a fully-functional part of our community!

Classes, families and individuals are welcomes to pop over and take a look. It won't impress you with the way it looks. But it sure is impressive with what it does.