Eco-Friendly Classroom Ideas

eco-friendly.png

We’ve done so much in our home to be eco-friendly – we installed a bidet, use washcloths in our kitchen rather than paper towels, cut down on our mini fridges (sorry, hubby, the one in the basement for band practice had to go!), bought more natural products and invested in ones that have less packaging, bought more items in bulk, use handkerchiefs more than tissues (not as gross as you would think) – the list goes on. But I suddenly realized that my paper product – and plastic product – consumption at school was nothing like what I was attempting to do at home. My room was filled with plastic storage, hundreds of copies were made – and thrown away – each week, I had filing cabinets stuffed with papers I don’t use… the guilt set in. Every other part of my life was filled with trying to do the sustainable, green, and healthy thing, yet why couldn’t I do it at work?

A lot of it comes down to standards – it’s standard and okay to make copies every day, to use color ink on your bulletin boards, to have filing cabinets bursting with lesson plans, ideas, projects, student files, and more. But I want to challenge that standard.

Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t make it right, or what YOU have to do.

This being said, we all have to approach our journey towards earth-happy practices in our own time and at our own pace and scope. If you don’t do these things in your room, that doesn’t make you a bad or evil person. If the progress you make today is to just be more aware of it when you walk into your classroom on Monday, then that’s progress that shouldn’t be ignored or belittled. If you are inspired to dump your filing cabinets in the recycling bins this summer and switch to Google Forms for tests and lesson plans, then all the power to you!

Here are some of my goals and accomplishments, so far, at achieving a more earth-thoughtful classroom:

1. Make fewer copies.

I have 420-some students, and that makes for a LOT of copies. And if we do a semi-school wide activity, like program evaluations or end of the year summaries, that means so much paper and ink consumption. And let’s be honest, where do those copies end up after they get used? While I’d love to think these worksheets get cherished, we all know they end up trashed at home.

img_17111.jpgTherefore, a lot of this comes down to a more critical examination of my lessons – do I need to have ten worksheets where my 3rd graders practiced writing sixteenth notes, or do I just need them to practice writing sixteenth notes? As much as I can, I’m going to make one set of 25 copies and place them in plastic sleeves for use with dry erase markers. The students still do the worksheet practice, but I don’t have 75 copies of these being made for 3 classes every year. Now, I have a clean, class set that gets filed every year.

I recently purchased these sheet protectors from Amazon – we used them for a write-the-room activity before break where my 2nd-5th graders had to find flashcards that a little leprechaun friend hid around the room. Each grade level practiced their own rhythm sets – but for my 300 students using this activity, I only had 25 copies made.

 

2. Reuse as much as possible.

When I make manipulatives, I try to make them sturdy and long-lasting to get as much out of them as possible. I believe firmly in the power of the laminator and the use of cardstock – the heavier paper and lamination helps turn my projects into long-lasting and strong work. Beat charts and card games that I printed and laminated my first month of teaching are still going strong three years in. Write-the-room cards, scavenger hunt pages, exit tickets, you name it – make one set, laminate, and reuse!

3. Plan smarter and slimmer.

There are some times in your career when scripting lessons is important – first year of teaching, observations, new lessons. But do you need to write your script out for every lesson every day? If you’re like me, you go through 7 lessons a day, 1-2 times a week. If I printed each lesson on it’s own piece of paper, that’s close to 420 pages per year. Let’s round that to 500, allowing for extra paper for your program prep. With 500 sheets of paper in a ream, that 6% of a tree. Multiply that over 5 years, and you’ve used 30% of a tree. Over a 25-year career? One and a half trees of paper. No, thank you!

img_1823.jpg

I threw together a simpler lesson plan for myself with smaller boxes to abbreviate my lessons and had them printed so that 4 grade levels would be on one sheet – 2 on the front, 2 on the back. What used to take 7 pages of print now takes 1.5 – cutting my paper consumption down by nearly 80%. Teachers Pay Teachers has piles of lesson plan templates – go explore!

Alternatively, you could go all digital – I investigated the idea of an online lesson planning software or even just using Google Docs to type my lessons and transfer them to my iPad’s Google Drive. Explore, and see what’s best for you – I’m still a tactile person that wants to write my lessons by hand, so the smaller lesson plan is working best for me right now.

4. Go digital as often as possible.

In addition to the idea of digital lessons, what about switching your tests and quizzes to a digital version? If you’re not feeling super tech-savvy with using Google Forms to take musical tests with adding pictures of melodic or rhythmic patterns, you can at least start with a performance evaluation that is digital. I made this for my 1st graders, and I was shocked at how easy it was for them to sit down at one of my iPads and take it while we watched our video performance after the program. I set up my 5 classroom iPads at my desk and had five students at a time come over and take the test – they were done within 1-2 minutes and only had to type in their name. This eliminated 450-some performance evaluation copies each year – and each year I read through them and then trash them, so why continue to throw away resources when I can have all the responses digitized, interpreted, and stored on Google?

Visit Google forms to build and experiment, or click here to visit my 1st grade performance assessment.

5. Re-examine student portfolios.

When I first started teaching I wanted to keep track of everything my students did on paper in their very own folders. I had visions of beautiful, crips folders containing their work throughout the year that would awe and wow parents when it was sent home…ha. This dream instead resulted in bulging and overflowing crates of folders that we would forget to keep updated. I didn’t use worksheets as often as I thought I would, so our portfolios weren’t very impressive. So why do I still have them? There’s nothing wrong with sending any of their work immediately home or hanging it in the hallway to show off to their classmates, and it will make the few paper copies they will use that much more special knowing they will be featured.

6. Switch to all natural cleaners and get rid of hand sanitizer.

Not only does the antibacterial sanitizer not truly kill all the germs (why do doctors wash their hands rather than just use sanitizer spray?), they are very bad for the beneficial bacteria in your body. Your body needs certain kinds of bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria (illness, autoimmune diseases, cancer), and antibacterial products don’t discriminate. Encourage your students to wash their hands rather than just rub down with sanitizer.

7. PURGE the unnecessary.

I’ve done so much work to clean and purge every single year I’ve been teaching. Early on, I was making the mistake of printing everything I thought looked fun or interesting…only to have it stack up in my file cabinets. I spent some time during conferences going through and sorting my cabinets, pulling them apart and recycling everything I hadn’t touched in at least two years. While the damage has already been done by having printed the copies, I can start to eliminate the practice to print automatically and second-guess where and how I’m going to store the random worksheet or newest poster I found.

By taking time to purge your classroom of unnecessary supplies, broken instruments, old and outdated curriculum, resources that are falling apart, missing game pieces, broken CDs, and more, you can also start to take away the need to buy more plastic storage containers or sorting bins. Use only what you need – it declutters your classroom and your mind, keeps your dollars in your pocket, and reduces the amount of petroleum products that are living and breathing in your room. There’s nothing that says your desk can’t still be untidy time to time, but you’d be surprised at how calm you’ll feel knowing what’s truly inside your deepest cabinets and hiding under your shelves and knowing that those items are there for a reason and that they have a purpose.

Natural Bug Repellants

Natural.png

This week was my spring break, and we managed to find a day off together where we spent all day outside. We grilled pizza for lunch and cooked a beef stew all afternoon – and when we pulled it off the fire, it was the most delicious and savory stew we have ever tasted. Better yet, we had made it from scratch in our own kitchen, with grass-fed and humanely-raised beef, and with vegetables we already had in our pantry and in our fridge. What an amazing day!

This spring is shaping up to be a beautiful time of year – the flowers are blooming, trees budding, birds calling, nature is waking up. Oh, and don’t forget the bugs – they’re waking up, too! (Cue exasperated sigh…)

Now, in every ecosystem and environment, everyone has a vital role. From the bacteria in the soil to the leaves decaying to the bee pollinating clover to the rabbit in the vegetable garden all the way up to the humans and big predators, we all have our own role and we must be allowed to play it. What’s unfortunate is that this line of reasoning includes the bugs as being important and critical to the cycle. (Cue another exasperated sigh.)

Now, I respect the role of nature and the different roles that are played by every step of the ladder, but that doesn’t mean I want them to carry out that job on my skin or on my patio. So how do we discourage the bugs from visiting without killing the bugs, or my gut flora?

I started investigating more natural ways to create repellants and kept turning to my collection of essential oils – my husband and mother-in-law have been showering me lots of delicious oils for Christmas and my collection is always growing. I like the natural effect that aromatherapy has on improving a variety of ailments, from mood to headaches to congestion and more. Their pungent qualities make them excellent for all things bug repellant, too!

So this week, I set out to develop two new items that will join us on the patio in the coming months: candles and bug spray.

Part 1: Candles

IMG_1787

I’ve heard that a lot of citronella candles are only so effective because they don’t contain true citronella oil – they just contain a chemical that smells like citronella and not the real stuff. So I set out to make citronella candles with the actual citronella essential oil!

First, I gathered my materials…

IMG_1777

  • soy wax (paraffin wax is made from either coal, petroleum, or oil by-products, so I stayed away from that!)
  • candle wicks
  • jars for candles (Mason jars are thicker and therefore less likely to break with heat)
  • essential oils – in addition to citronella, I bought lemongrass and used the grapefruit I already had in my collection
    • Citronella is excellent at repelling most flying pests, but grapefruit is an added tick protector and lemongrass is also helpful for mosquitoes and flies

IMG_1780

And the items needed for assembly…

  • Double boiler or DIY double boiler (glass or steel bowl in a saucepan with boiling water)
  • Spatula to stir melting wax (avoid plastic because of high heat)
  • Hot glue gun to glue wicks to bottom of jar
  • Pencil or chopstick to prop up wick while cooling

All in all, this candle-making was quick, easy, and surprisingly not messy – all my materials and bowls cleaned up quickly because I washed them while everything was still in liquid form – no scrubbing and scratching away hardened wax!

My bowl was small, so I made enough for one candle and then repeated the process for a second.

Using a make-shift double boiler, (steel bowl over a pot filled with boiling water), I melted down approximately 4 cups of wax (equals approximately 1 to 1 1/4 cup of melted wax) and added about 3-4 drops of essential oils for each cup of wax.

While the wax was melting, I used my hot glue gun to glue the wicks to the bottom of my jars. I sat the jars next to the pot on the stove so they would stay a little warmer – you don’t want to risk them cracking when introducing hot wax to cool glass.

When the wax was all the way cooled, I poured it carefully into my first jar, using a piece of wax paper to catch any spills (that way, I could throw any wax spills away rather than scrub my counter to within an inch of its life.)

IMG_1781

Then, I repeated the process for jar number 2. For each, I propped up the wicks with a chopstick or pencil to keep them from leaning to the edge of the candle. It wasn’t perfectly straight, but they’ll burn fairly straight, so that’s all that matters!

Leave them to cool overnight, and you’ll wake up to scent-a-licious and beautiful candles the next morning! For all new candles, I’ve heard the recommendation that the first time you burn them you should let the wick burn long enough to melt the top layer of wax so that the wick can soak up a little and “remember” for the next burning.

 

img_1788-2.jpg

Part 2: Bug Spray

IMG_1782

If candles were easy, then homemade bug spray is the equivalent of eating Girl Scout cookies – easy, fun, and over way too quickly. This recipe was a mixture of the same essential oils from my candles but with the added witch hazel to act as a sterilizing agent (keeps bacteria from growing in the bottle).

In a dark spray bottle, mix the following:

  • 2 oz. distilled water
  • 1.5 oz witch hazel
  • 30 drops of citronella essential oil
  • 25 drops of grapefruit essential oil
  • 15 drops of lemongrass essential oil

IMG_1783

Keep in a dark and cool location, and break out in times of outdoor frolicking. Shake before use, as the oils and water will separate.

I’m looking forward to trying both of these products on our patio with our new patio set – I hope they will be as successful for you as I am sure they will be for me!