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What's in a Grade 5 Footprint? 

At The Sterling Hall School, the Grade 5 students are creating interactive Carbon Footprint Calculators to help educate their friends and family about climate change. This project was developed collaboratively between the Science and Technology Integration teachers as a way to engage students in the curriculum and empower them to share their knowledge with others.

UNESCO’s Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development (2010) stresses the importance of equipping young people with scientific knowledge around climate change while also prompting students to evaluate how their individual choices contribute to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The Carbon Calculator Project addresses both objectives because each student investigates how their favourite recreational activities are related to energy usage and how their choices impact carbon emissions.

To begin, students tried out a wide variety of existing online carbon calculators. The students evaluated the user interface of each calculator, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each design, and brainstormed ways to make a more user-friendly carbon footprint tool. The most common criticism that students shared with one another was that many calculators had questions they were unable to answer on their own. For example, students did not know how much natural gas or electricity was used in their home each month, and therefore they were disengaged from calculators that required that information.

Based on the classroom discussion, we co-created design criteria for the students’ carbon calculators: the tool should be easy to use and should include questions that a Grade 5 student can answer on their own. To make the tool more relevant to our students’ lives, each student chose a specific activity on which to focus his calculator. Students came up with a wide range of topics, including shoe shopping, hockey practice, and creating art.

Students thought about all of the ways, big and small, that their activities result in carbon emissions. A student that focused on video games brainstormed all of the ways he uses energy during a gaming session, including screen brightness and charging frequency. The students then used Tynker to create an interactive game that asks questions and provides feedback about the user’s carbon emissions.

In this project, we set out to have Grade 5 students apply the knowledge they were developing about carbon emissions and conservation of resources to their own lives. We witnessed students engage with the science curriculum content, evaluate their own decisions, and create a digital project that would inform a wider audience. One student explained “I like this project because it’s interesting to know that whatever you do in your life that seems really normal could affect the Earth in a bad way. Just changing one or two things in your average day could help the Earth.” To finish off their work, students will use the calculator with their family to evaluate their carbon footprint and commit to one action that will reduce their GHG output.

Article by Rachel Greenstein, Technology Integrator Teacher.