That’s the message from fifth-grade teacher Erik Wolfe, who went before the Goshen Community Schools board recently to share how he and his fellow fifth-grade teachers at Model Elementary have been working with their students to come up with ideas about how best to reduce the school’s carbon footprint.
According to Wolfe, the program is part of the school’s recent adoption of project-based learning, a dynamic teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.
“Project-based learning is really, really big right now,” Wolfe said of the school’s new program. “We’ve been working on it for about roughly eight weeks now, and we’ve got a few more weeks to go with it.”
The students’ current challenge — reducing the school’s carbon footprint — is their second project involving project-based learning this year, and their most ambitious to date. For the past eight weeks or so, the school’s four classes of fifth-graders have been working together in groups with the assistance of Wolfe and fellow fifth-grade teachers Lisa Younghans, Michelle Eckelbarger, Kiera Edwards and student teacher Leah Brubaker to research, investigate and brainstorm new ideas for how best to reduce the school’s overall carbon footprint.
“And the work the students have been doing is pretty impressive,” said Edwards of the ongoing collaboration between the fifth-graders over the course of the project. “They’ve come up with some pretty neat ideas.”
Among the ideas tackled by the students include new and better ways to get the most out of their iPads and other electronics with each charge; possible ways to reduce water usage in the restrooms; thoughts on more efficient lighting usage; and even finding ways to get their parents to reduce their car idling when dropping off and picking up the students.
In addition to their own ideas, the students have also received presentations and assistance from various local community members and businesses involved in the energy industry such as the Northern Indiana Public Services Company, with each playing some role in instructing the students on ways to reduce energy usage and their overall carbon footprint both at home and at school.
“We couldn’t be more excited about how the kids have responded,” Wolfe said of the project and the way the students have taken to the program with gusto.
With a majority of the project nearly complete at this point, Wolfe said the next project planned for the kids will be presenting their best energy efficiency ideas to the administration in the hopes that they may be incorporated if and when the corporation decides to build a new school building.
Discussions of such a move have been in the works as part of the corporation’s ongoing strategic planning process aimed at examining issues such as overcrowding in some of the corporation’s schools. The corporation’s 33-member facilities/feasibility committee, which is overseeing the strategic planning process, is expected to offer its findings and recommendations to the school board sometime early this year.
In celebration of the project’s completion, the students will be hosting a special Fifth Grade Gala from 6 to 7 p.m. Jan. 24 in the school cafeteria where the students will present their project ideas, with light refreshments to follow. Members of the Goshen school board, central office, parents, family members and members of the community are encouraged to attend.