Tag Archives: school

Greening Back to School

This post is my contribution to the Green Moms Carnival.  This month’s carnival is hosted by Mindful Momma and the topic is “Back to School.”

Last night, a family friend asked me about what we teachers ask students to purchase for going back to school.  He had heard a radio story about people being asked to bring in rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other non-educational items.  Can I just say that this is ridiculous?

Now, I may have a different perspective because I teach high school and my only requirements are that each student covers his or her book, has a notebook of his or her choice, and brings some sort of writing utensil.  I’m easy to please.  If kids want highlighters, colored pencils, a fancy trapper keeper (do they still make those?) or a TI-86 calculator, good for them.  But those aren’t REQUIRED items in my classroom.

As an environmental educator and an environmentalist, I encourage kids to skip purchasing new items and use the ones they have at home that are perfectly good.  At the end of each year when kids clean out their lockers, I inevitably see them throwing out binders, notebooks, folders, etc.  I spend much of my time standing by the trash, asking them if they’d like to donate it to my classroom instead.  I’d much prefer that they’d save it for next year, and I’m sure their parents would like that, but teenagers don’t always think cost-effectively.  Fast-forward to the next school year and I offer students my “salvaged” binders on the first day, first-come-first-served, and explain that they’re reusing, an important part of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.  Since I was on maternity leave at the end of last year, I have no binders to give away this year.  But I’ll encourage kids to check out what they have at home before buying new.

Some ideas: Do you have any idea how many partially used spiral notebooks there are? You probably have many in your house.  Why not cut out the paper and put it in a binder instead of buying new? Or simply rip out the used pages and you have a brand new notebook! Why not use scrap paper or junk mail instead of buying post-it notes or pads? Do you really need to buy new pens, pencils, crayons, rulers, calculators? Why not shop around at home before heading out to the store? It’ll save you some money and reduce your impact on the planet.

Finally, when it comes to buying toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer (my school doesn’t do this),  I think it’s crazy, but I can understand wanting to use as much of the budget for education as possible.  However, as a taxpayer, I don’t want to have to go out and buy these things that the school should provide.  It would make much more sense for the school to buy these items in bulk, and thereby save money, packaging and a lot of aggravated parents.  If your child’s school is asking for these items, I’d encourage you to contact the teacher, principal, superintendent or Board of Education.  It just makes no sense for children to bring these items to school.  (It reminds me of a story my grandfather told about being required to bring wood for the wood stove to his one-room school house, and that the kids who brought the most wood got to sit closest to the fire.)  Maybe you can explain that your family chooses to use cloth wipes instead of toilet paper? That would be a fun way to introduce yourself to the new teacher!

Do you have any tips for going back to school without being a mega-consumer?


Filed under Sustainable Living

Saving Paper at School

This is my fifth year teaching environmental science (seventh year teaching), and I feel more and more responsibility to be a good role model for my students.

Paper use is a constant battle in our school.  Not only is paper expensive, it’s often wasted.  Nothing frustrates me more than finding a piece of paper abandoned on the floor (except maybe when I’ve lent out all my pens and have nothing to write with).

Over the years, I’ve found ways to reduce my paper usage in school.  It started a few years ago when I threw the problem out to my AP students and asked them to brainstorm solutions.  One of the great ideas that came out of the class was making a CD of supplemental articles,  powerpoint notes, study guides, and lab documents for each chapter.  I’ve done this with my AP class for a few years, and I have to say it takes quite a bit of organization on both ends to make it work.

In my other classes, I’ve found a few simple ways to conserve paper, too.  I find that many handouts are unnecessary (which is why they end up on the floor or in the trash/recycle bin, instead of in notebooks). 

  • In lab, I’ll often project powerpoint slides with directions instead of making a copy for each student.  I’ll then attach that powerpoint to my school website, so students can download it as a resource when writing up their report. 
  • I’ll also use the website by linking to an article that I’d like students to read for homework instead of printing a copy for each student.  It’s actually easier to work this way, since I don’t have to spend time standing in line for the copier or clearing paper jams (which in turn wastes more paper).

Sometimes, however, I have to use paper.  There are some things that just can’t be done without it (think quizzes and tests), and while I’d love to have a “paperless” classroom, I really don’t believe it’s possible without a computer for each student.  Still, when I use paper, I’m always cautious to conserve. 

  • Making double-sided copies is a great start, since it will cut paper consumption in half. 
  • If the assignment is short, for example five analysis questions, I’ll often put two or more copies on one page, then cut them up so each student gets a partial piece of paper. 
  • I’m also conscious of page number in larger assignments.  I always hate when there’s one line that heads onto another sheet of paper.  I’ll fiddle with the font and formatting to get that last line back onto the previous page, being cautious to keep the font big enough to read and to keep the document from looking squished. 
  • Finally, I never make extra copies.  I’ve found that students become more responsible for their papers when spares aren’t easy to come by.  I will, however, link documents to my website so students can download important papers that they’ve lost.

At home, I hardly ever print anything for personal use.  Instead, I copy recipes online recipes into a notebook which creates my own little cookbook.  I’ll also copy driving directions onto a scrap piece of paper or junk mail. 

What do you do to save paper?


Filed under Sustainable Living

My Students Need Your Help!

Here’s a call to all the greenies out there!

I’m totally re-vamping my college-bound environmental science curriculum this year, and I’m looking for cool, exciting resources in this last week before I go back to school.  If you know of any interactive websites, articles, outdoor activities, contests, video clips or anything else my students may benefit from, I’d love to hear from you!

Our major units of study for the year include:

I. Water, Soil and Air

II. Agriculture

III. Waste Management and Recycling

IV. Energy: Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Alternatives

V. Biodiversity, Biomes, Endangered Species

If you know of anything on these topics, please leave a comment.  I know eco-bloggers are wonderful resources, so I’m counting on you!


Filed under Outside, Sustainable Living

Outer Island

My grad class spent today on Outer Island, which is one of the Thimble Islands.  We did a whole bunch of data collection, but I also had a chance to take lots of pictures.

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Here’s the tide pool that my group monitored throughout the day.  It reminded me of an infinity pool.

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The tide was coming in while we were there.

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The Thimble Islands are granite, and are therefore more stable than many other islands in Long Island Sound.  This pink rock is known as Stony Creek Granite.

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Outer Island is about 5 acres, and is the only Thimble Island used for research by Connecticut State Universities and Yale.

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I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this boat sailing by us.

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Here’s our tide pool again, from a different angle. 

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Although it was a busy day, we still had some time to relax and take in the scenery.  I love this class!


Filed under Outside, Sustainable Living

Sediment Sampling in the Sound

My “Analytical Techniques and Instrumentation” class spent today out in New Haven Harbor taking sediment samples. 

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We took a boat from the Sound School, a public/magnet high school in New Haven that has a focus on aquaculture and marine studies.

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Here’s their boat, the Sound Rover.

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Here’s part of the Sound School.  It’s built right on the water with its own pier.

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We selected sampling locations on a map of the harbor.  We tried to cover areas that we suspected to be especially contaminated, as well as areas that we hoped would be clean.  In the lab, we plan to test for iron, copper and zinc.

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One of the areas we chose to sample was under the Quinnipiac Bridge.  We expect to find contaminants here since I-95  is right above.

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We also sampled the sediments near the terminals, where petroleum and other materials are emptied from huge boats.

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Here’s an oil tanker.  Other areas we hypothesize will be contaminated are near a wastewater plant, storm drains, a marina, and a dredged area.

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Here’s lighthouse park, an area that we hope will have little contamination.  We’re also hoping the commercial oyster beds we sampled will be clean, as well as the area outside the breakwaters.

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The New Haven skyline.

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We used this ponar grab to sample the sediments at the bottom.  Metals settle out of the water into the sediments, which is why we’re not testing the water.

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Here’s one of the sediment samples that we collected.  You can see the distinct layers in it.  We had to be careful to clean everything thoroughly between sampling to avoid cross-contamination.

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Back in the lab, we prepared the samples to go into the drying oven over the long weekend.  When we return to class on Monday, we’ll begin to test for iron, zinc and copper.


Filed under Outside, Sustainable Living

Back to School…

After three whole days of vacation last week, which were dominated by Annabelle’s new baby, I headed back to school today.  I’m taking a course in my Environmental Education program called “Analytical Techniques and Instrumentation.”  In the next two weeks, we’re going to learn how to test samples for contaminants, visit New Haven Harbor to take sediments to test for heavy metals, test our own tap water, and visit one of the Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford to study the rocky intertidal ecosystem.  In addition, we’re going to set up and maintain a salt water aquarium and monitor for a variety of different factors.  I’m excited that I’ll actually get to learn how to do all the chemical testing I’ve been reading so much about, so when I see results published in journals or in the news I’ll be able to understand them better.  Today was introductory lab stuff, practice using balances, pH meters, micro-pipets and the spectrophotometer.  It was a blast for a science dork like me.

After a busy day, I came home to see my hydrangeas wilting in the first real heat of the summer, even though I watered them this morning.  I went around to the back garden, where I left the hose this morning, and when I got there I saw a huge black snake going into a hole in my flower garden! I would estimate that it was five feet long.  I screamed for Ed and he killed it, but I have vowed to never weed in that garden again.  Now I’m off to do my homework!


Filed under Home, Sustainable Living