Dear Prime Minister: Writing letters for World Environment Day

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CC BY-NC Sylwia Bielec

Back in 2002, when I was teaching Secondary Three English Language Arts, then-United States President George W. Bush was trying to pull together a coalition of allies to attack Iraq for (wrongly) suspecting the country of having Weapons of Mass Destruction.

As you can imagine, there was considerable discussion and debate amongst the students as to whether or not Canada should participate in the war. I had finally hit upon a topic that got my students to freely offer their opinions through talking and writing.

After a discussion around what can be done in a democracy to influence the government, the students decided to write individual letters to Prime Minister Jean Chretien offering their personal opinions. Each letter was unique, some students appealed to the heart and some focused on arguments that appealed to logic and the mind.

Whether it was the opportunity to express his or her own voice or the chance to write a letter on an authentic topic, I don’t recall once having to respond to the phrase, “I don’t know what to write”.

The process of composing the letters included:

• thinking through opinions using different brainstorming tools
• reviewing the letter writing genre
• drafting, editing and revising

We sent off the letter (we did not even need a stamp!) and a few weeks later we received a letter back from someone in the Prime Minister’s office and an autographed picture, which the class proudly displayed.

I told you that story because a few days ago I received an email from Cam Cheema who works at the David Suzuki Foundation. He is inviting students in Quebec to write letters to influential politicians, including today’s Prime Minister and Minister of Youth, Justin Trudeau.

David & Cam 2
David Suzuki and Cam Cheema

 

Cam would like students to send the letters to the Prime Minister’s office on June 5, World Environment Day in an effort to influence the government towards developing an environmental bill of rights.

I don’t want to spend time trying to convince you about the value of a clean environment and healthy planet. I do want to convince you to teach your students to talk about important local and global issues and write persuasive letters to decision makers about topics that are important to them. (Incidentally, other people will happily convince you to care about the environment. You will find a school guide to participating in World Environment Day here.)

Curriculum Connections

I hear the voice the in my head ringing, “how is this connected to the curriculum?”  Beyond the obvious connection to the Broad Area of Learning Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities, writing a letter to the Prime Minister has clear connections to the English Language Arts curriculum (and beyond) when we see the purpose of the letter as:

• a persuasive text moving people to act or behave in a certain way
• an argumentative text convincing people of a point of view through a logical sequencing of ideas and/or propositions

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 3.05.01 PM(Progression of Learning p.19-20)

In addition, students engage all three ELA competencies as they discuss the issue at hand, read about it across various media platforms and eventually write their own thoughts on the matter.

Resources

LEARN has produced “How-To’s” to support students in writing a letter in English and French.

Check out some activities from the David Suzuki Foundation Blue Dot to spark some discussions with your students about the issues surrounding access to clean and safe water, clean air and a healthy environment.

If you are a teacher interested in talking about the environment let us know!   Maybe you and your class are already doing a great sustainability project.  If so, you should tell Learning for a Sustainable Future.  They are offering a class a $500 award under the LSF Jack Layton Award for Youth Action in Sustainability.

 

Call to Action

You’ve helped your students write letters to the Prime Minister.  What do you do next?

Send the letters to Cam and someone on his Blue Dot team will hand deliver the letters to the Prime Minister’s office in Montreal or Ottawa.

Cam Cheema
Organisateur Bleu Terre / Blue Dot Organizer
Fondation David Suzuki
La Maison du développement durable
50 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
5e étage — Bureau 540
Montréal (Québec)  H2X 3V4

If you are going to participate – please email Cam to let him know the letters are on the way.  You can contact him at ccheema (at) davidsuzuki.org.  He is a really nice guy, don’t hesitate to ask him, or get your students to ask him any questions you may have.

Educators for the Environment?

Is there a critical mass of educators that want to seriously engage students from across the province in being active citizens on issues related to the environment?

If you want to keep the conversation going and share project ideas, grant opportunities and resources please share your contact information here.

 

Gaspé Makes: STEAM challenges at Eastern Shores School Board

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In early April, a LEARN team composed of Chris Colley and Christine Truesdale visited three schools in the Gaspé to work with students and teachers on the Makerspace idea with our Open Creative Space model. The following is the post published by RECIT pedagogical consultant Craig Bullett on the ESSB blog. We are reposting it.

Eastern Shores School Board showcased our Makerspace initiative as the product of a Professional Development Innovation Grant (PDIG).  The project was a collaboration of Teachers from Gaspe Elementary, Belle Anse, and Shigawake Port Daniel Schools.  The project was coordinated by the ESSB local RECIT, and generously supported by LEARN Quebec’s Open Creative Spaces Team. LEARN loaded up a van with everything under the sun, and brought the Makerspace concept to the Eastern Shores School Board.

Makerspace Promo 3APr2017
The event took place from April 3rd to 6th, and involved…120 students from grades 3 to 8.

  • 11 Teachers (representing 8 different schools).
  • The Open Creative Spaces Team from LEARN Quebec.

Gaspe Elementary, Shigawake Port Daniel School, and the Anchor Adult Ed Center hosted their very own Makerspace concepts with students from their respective communities.

 

Day 1 April 3rd:

Shigawake Port Daniel School with grade 4-5-6 students from SPDS.

SPDS staff transformed the school’s lunch area and stage into an impressive open space to accommodate everyone.  Students could move freely through the various stations.  STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) applications were blended into each of the various stations including,…

  • Building motorized artbots which draw on their own.
  • Programming the Ollie and Sphero robots to navigate an obstacle course built by students.
  • Building a water dam with lego, to create energy.
  • Creating an homopolar motor, powered by magnets, batteries, and copper wire.
  • Creating a piano with keys made of play-doh, fruit and cups of water.
  • Programing turtle art to draw shapes.
  • Designing and Building a catapult to knock down a tower of cups.

IMG_6545Day 2 April 4th

Gaspe Elementary School with grade 5-6 students from Gaspe Elementary School.

On this day, we converted the entire Gaspe Elementary Gymnasium into the GES Makerspace.  The same Challenges and activities were replicated as done at SPDS.  It is interesting to note the different outcomes with a simple change of venue.  We could have brought the SPDS students to this location, and the experience would have been completely new!  GES students exposed new angles and perspectives not seen the previous day.

Day 3 April 5th

Gaspe Elementary School with grade 3-4 students from Gaspe Elementary and Belle Anse School.

We opened the gym once again to our newest student audience.  The mixture of students from 2 different schools created an interesting dynamic to start the day.  It was clear to see students sticking to their own school group initially. As the day progressed, it was impossible to tell what student was from which school.  They were all Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, Artists, and Mathematicians. The selection of stations and the duration to stay at each was left completely to student choice. It was amazing! No stations were ever empty and none were overcrowded.  Students moved freely between stations in no particular order and without time restrictions.  This phenomenon held true for all of our Makerspace days.  It simply worked!

IMG_6574Day 4 April 6th

The Anchor Adult Education Center with grade 7-8 students from New Carlisle High School.

We brought the Makerspace concept to The Anchor to share the concept with the Adult Ed Community.  On this day, we brought High school Students to experience the concept, while Adult Ed staff could also appreciate the phenomenon.  The concept of stations is making it’s way into Adult Ed Centers across Quebec, and there are similarities to the makerspace concept.  I think we planted some seeds for community Makerspace ideas to emerge from the event. Several Teachers commented on the lack of discipline problems and interventions needed to keep students engaged.  Students were proud of accomplishments, really stuck to the task, and got through some difficult challenges.

This makerspace event could not have succeeded without the proper framework guiding it.  It was important to start with the appropriate mindset.  We started each day by reading a story.  We chose The most Magnificent Thing, but any similar story could work.  It is important to talk about overcoming challenges and not giving up with a challenge.  It is also important to emphasize that mistakes are ‘okay’.  Finally, remember to have fun!

We concluded each day with reflections from students.  This allowed learners to consolidate their experience and identify what about the Makerspace concept, makes learning fun. Typically similar words came from each session.  Choice, empowerment, autonomy, creativity, cooperation, trial and error.

We can say without a doubt that we learned something new everyday.  We, being everyone involved!  Organizers, Teachers, Administrators, and  Students.

The most notable observations were the absence of conflict, the seamless cooperation, and the easy transitions between activities.

Here are some nuggets captured over the 4 days.

Makerspace moment Twitter

  • Full coverage of Tweets over the 4 days

https://twitter.com/i/moments/852571696250970112

  • NCHS Students explain their hydraulic lift.

goo.gl/hj2Bmg  

  • NCHS Student demonstrates hydraulic design

goo.gl/VN18fY 

  • GES Student playing piano with Play-Doh and Apples

goo.gl/E707zm

And…My 2 favorites…

Grade 6 experts imparting their knowledge to younger students.

Makerspace Gr 6aMakerspace gr 6b