Starting with Student Interest

In the “Change!” unit, fifth graders are identifying climate issues, seeking solutions, and taking action

It’s fun to wonder what education might look like if we started from a blank slate.

Imagine if we sat down and asked, “What is the best way to educate our children in an ever-changing world?”  There would probably be ideas surrounding agency, flexibility, collaboration, and iterative thinking. We want our children to be masters of communication and skilled at finding solutions to all sorts of different challenges. The big idea is for teachers and students to collaborate on creating and engaging in real-world projects that require us to acquire new understandings, knowledge, and skills as keys for success.

A good example of this is happening now in our fifth-grade classroom. Students have heard about global warming and decided they can take action to change Catlin Gabel School to do an even better job in taking positive steps towards combating climate change. With student interest as our starting point, we developed a new unit of study that we call “Change!”

Change! began with a science lesson based on energy and different systems on our Earth. Not surprisingly, the students quickly noticed a connection to climate change. A spark was lit! They wanted to know more about climate change and the different factors that contribute to global warming. Research libraries were created by teachers and students, and teams were organized to dive deep into specific topics and share their findings with the rest of the class.

What this work means to the students came through clearly in their statements of purpose:

“It never really happens as a why or a we, but a them—‘They’ made the change. We’re trying to take it to an ‘I,’ ‘we,’ ‘me’ perspective. We’re doing the change, rather than saying ‘these people.’ (Vikas)

“If we’re blaming it on each other, we really just need to say that we made this and now we need to stop it. We need to work together.” (Ellery)

“I think we talk about it a little too much and don’t act as much as we need to. Many people are protesting around the world. That helps, but why don’t you just go out and start it yourself?” (Collings)

“We can’t rely on just the people we hear about on the news to actually help climate change. We need to be the ones to make a difference.” (Ruby)

“Kids can help make a difference...I think a lot of people can.” (Aayush)

These students continue to research and create solutions. Some are planning pieces of art that will be placed on campus to inspire change, while others are putting together presentations to share with school leaders or making fun games that can be checked out from the library to teach younger children about actions they can take to combat climate change.

We’re not sure what the students will create to make Catlin Gabel even better—it’s in their hands. But we are sure they are developing their ability to think critically about a very complex problem, collaborate, and feel a rich sense of agency as they learn to fight with hope. As one 5th grader (Kate) said, “The way you fight with hope is that you work together. If you have a lot of different points of view, and all of them have hope, you can be hopeful that something good is going to happen.”