Offline Crowdsourcing For The Greenest Schools: Rally The Troops

In March of 2013, after having been inspired by a lesson on modern and alternative energy, a fourth grade class in a Durham, North Carolina organized a crowdsourcing campaign on Kickstarter to subsidize the installation of solar panels on their school. Before they launched their plea for a green and off-the-grid classroom, however, this collection of (almost certainly precocious) youngsters known as “Aaron’s Class”, studied up.

They researched the basics of electricity and conduction; learned how solar panels worked; found out exactly how many panels the hypothetical solar array would require to liberate their classroom from the local power plant, and how much all of it would cost. Armed with answers, Aaron’s Class produced a video detailing how their solar energy system would work, complete with illustrative props, and consigned the final product to the mercy of the internet’s financial largesse.

They asked for a modest $800 and ended up meeting that goal… and over $5000 more, for a total of $5817. It was more than enough for them to secure a solar array capable of lighting up their classroom, no grid required, and to purchase several small wind turbines as well.

As heartening as the Aaron’s Class story is, this isn’t a paean to the use of internet crowdsourcing for making one’s school greener. While that’s not necessarily a bad idea, the ‘net can prove a fickle friend. However, the faculty, staff and administration of any school have a distinct advantage among those hoping to hit up crowds for sourcing: educational institutions come equipped with their own crowd- the students.

Sure, its members may be shorter per capita than the average crowd, but they’re also energetic, enthusiastic, curious, committed and apt to show great loyalty to something they feel strongly about and enjoy. Better still, they’re a captive audience. Not that students would only participate in these hypothetical green projects because attendance requires them to. One of the most exciting features of the student-involved green movement is how universally popular they are with the participants.

It’s no secret that the influence and dominance of the traditional rote learning, memorization and recitation model of education is being challenged. And according to a great percentage of the available data and analysis, it should be.

The acquisition and recall of names and dates is not only virtually useless for fostering critical thinking, it’s amazingly boring for the students. Instead, teachers’ groups, non-governmental organizations and the government itself are all emphasizing the importance (and apparent superiority) of meaningful, associative and active learning over rote repetition.

For instance, in the course of their solar panel installation campaign, Aaron’s Class learned the earlier-mentioned particulars of electricity. Those particulars, however, were learned not simply for the sake of knowing what protons do, but because it gave them a more holistic understanding of a project they were excited about. That’s the definition of actual, applied learning.

Complimenting that new, practical knowledge base was an attendant overview of where we get our electricity traditionally; where and how we may get it in the future; the pros and cons of traditional and alternative energy sources; and what all of that may mean for the future of the environment. That project became a cross-disciplinary lesson on energy, business and economics, teamwork, determination, goal-setting and achieving, conservation and even the increasingly important role of internet marketing.

Another example is the Edible Schoolyard, New Orleans (ESYNOLA). One of the first big projects undertaken by ESYNOLA’s students was the conversion of a trash lot behind the school into a garden. The school now regularly produces thousands of pounds of healthy, organic fruits and vegetables every year- all of which goes to in-classroom demonstrations and lessons, and to the cafeteria for lunch. All of that lends itself to active, associative and practical learning.

Students participate in studies of life sciences, botany, agriculture, entomology and physical fitness (to name a few) when working in the garden. The (literal) fruits of their labor are then brought inside and more traditional school fare, like fractions, are incorporated into healthy recipes the students prepare. Leftover produce is composted for ESYNOLA’s gardens on the ground, or the one on the living roof of their outdoor classroom.

For those schools not explicitly designed with conservation and energy efficiency in mind, a good first step to maximizing greenness is an energy inventory. And a good first step during those inventories is a scrutinizing of the nitty-gritty minutiae. Areas of waste and inefficiency should be identified; check how up-to-date a school building’s weather stripping is; caulk gaps and cracks; fill out the insulation, etc.

Investing in a “smart” thermostat system can save thousands a year by optimizing heating schedules. Familiarity with and upkeep of the school’s HVAC setup is obviously important, as is ensuring that all of the appliances are Energy Star rated.

Once those technicalities have been hammered out, embarking on green education with students makes more sense. There’s nothing wrong with modest beginnings, a recycling game for instance: friendly inter-class competition with the winner sorting the most material into the appropriate recycling bins over the course of a year or semester.

A considerable number of more ambitious student-incorporating environmental enterprises are obviously available for research on the internet. And any teacher or administrator interested in promoting a greener educational infrastructure should definitely become familiar with the pertinent grants available for doing so. However, the most important commodities for this sort of thing, by far, are dedication, vision and a population of students willing to have fun and make the world a better place.

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Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber and sprinklerfitter, landscaper and lawn-saver, amateur conservationist and environmentalist, who found his true calling after progressing from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he acquires the experience, wit and insight necessary for master blogger status, he’ll let you know. Meanwhile, Ruben spends his time daydreaming about the snorkeling in Costa Rica, hiking and his lovely wife Gina (not necessarily in that order, or course).