4Rs Action Hero Spotlight: Teacher Matt Nolan and the Watershed Wizards
In a high-stakes testing environment, action-based and project-based learning can be overwhelming and not very attractive as a teaching methodology as it requires for many extra time, extra planning, and extra resources. However, Matt Nolan, from Nea Community Learning Center in Alameda, is committed to teaching from this service-learning model and has fully integrated the 4Rs Student Action Project into his science unit, "Environmental Leadership: Watershed Wizards.
Matt stated, "There is clearly a lot of pressure to help students be successful on state-mandated testing on a variety of subjects. I used this project to help my 5th grade students get at critical standards in both English language arts and science, despite the risk that such an in-depth project could take up a lot of teaching time. It is abundantly clear, after the fact, that by going through the process of having our students independently research information, create projects and presentations, and then teach others about what they had learned, that this time has been well spent. The lessons that they learned during this project seems to stick in a way that not only prepares them to do well on a test, but also as active members in our community."
Students' used the guiding question to lead their project, "What is an environmental problem that affects our watershed and what can we do to help fix it?" Matt used the project to facilitate students' research skills including how to credit sources of their information, and to give students "a chance to make a difference in the world and develop life skills while learning 5th grade standards!"
Matt was the pilot teacher for the Waste in the Watershed project for two school years: he was able to assess how to best leverage the project. In his 9-week unit, he strategically scheduled the project for StopWaste field educators to come into the classroom as experts and speak about the 4Rs & Our Watershed. He integrated the project curriculum to introduce and review key environmental science concepts of watershed ecosystems, including how humans impact ocean ecosystems, and specifically, the plastic pollution issues of the Pacific Gyre's Great Garbage Patch.
Rather than students taking action as a class, students chose their own watershed issues to lead their own action projects. The results were impressive to say the least.
Plastic Bags, Pesticides, Perils of Erosion, Plastic Pollution & Solutions!
Students researched and took action to educate their communities by creating newsletters, comic books, posters, flyers, and power point presentations about plastic bags, pesticide and plastic pollution, and soil erosion in our watersheds. Some solutions students came up with was to be creative and make reusable bags out of old T-Shirts, or even used plastic bags that you can iron together to make a more sturdy plastic fabric to sew a more durable reusable bag. This message is timely as Alameda County just passed this January the Single Bag Ordinance charging retailers ten cents a bag, effective 2013, to encourage residents to byob- bring your own bag!
Other solutions were to make alternatives to pesticides or hazardous household cleaners, and instead use less toxic remedies. Reducing our use of plastic was another favorite action project. Students gave solutions from using less plastic and using reusables for eating our meals, to buying in bulk.
The Results Are In: 435 community members reached!
The students set the goal of reaching out to 400 members of the school and beyond and spread their watershed stewardship messages. They are happy to report that they ended up reaching 435 community members! This included students in other classes K-5, people in their neighborhoods (i.e. at their pool, at their places of worship), friends in clubs, and their families.
StopWaste educator Angelina Vergara praised Matt's work at Nea, "As a county, our long-term waste reduction goal is that by 2020 less than 10 percent of solid wastes landfilled should be materials that are easily recycled or composted. We believe that with Nea's Watershed Wizards taking action, the future looks bright, very bay-friendly and even a bit magical!!! Thank you, Watershed Wizards!"