Middle schoolers learn Earth-friendly lessons at Cal State Fullerton – Orange County Register

Students from Ladera Middle School gather around a demo using solar energy to cook. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)


By now, 47 years after the first Earth Day, even middle school students know it’s important to save the planet.

But how exactly can they do that?

Kimberly Gibson, a CSUF graduate student in environmental studies, wondered that too. As part of her master’s project, she wanted to find out how students are learning about sustainability (or “saving the planet” in middle school parlance) to develop activities based on next-generation science standards.

“I wanted to connect everyday life with sustainability and what they’re learning in their classes with the outside world,” Gibson said at an interactive exhibit by Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Sustainability. Students from Ladera Vista Junior High School in Fullerton toured several displays set up by undergraduates from an environmental studies/chemistry class that Gibson mentors.

The undergrad student displays focused on water pollution, air pollution and water conservation, while an exhibit on solar cooking was manned by a volunteer from the Sacramento-based nonprofit Solar Cookers International.

“I never knew you could cook that way and that it could get that hot,” said one of the students, who in general thought the displays were “cool” and who also toured the Fullerton Arboretum as part of the field trip.

Gibson aimed to show the middle school students how human activity impacts the environment. She will assess how much such “play learning” boosts their “environmental literacy and comprehension” with an eye to incorporating such methods into new teaching standards for science.

“I want students to be aware what they’re doing day to day,” said Gibson, who has been conducting tutorials with the Ladera Vista students twice a week. They typically say “I can’t drive a car. How do I save the world?” she said. “I’m teaching them these small steps to be greener citizens.”

In the water pollution exhibit, for example, students were confronted with dirty water and given money to “purchase” tools to clean it up. They quickly realized the money didn’t go far. “It teaches that prevention is better than mitigation,” Gibson said. The experiment shows them their actions have a monetary value, she said, and that cleaning up messes costs a lot of money, so they shouldn’t litter or pollute in the first place.

“They learned they need to be more conscious of where they throw their trash,” said CSUF student Ashley Le-on. “Or our water will look like this,” added exhibit partner Eric McConnell as he eyed the muddy basins.

The air pollution exhibit showed how the catalytic converter in cars works to remove polluting particles from exhaust. The Ladera Vista students rubbed balloons against their hair, then held them over a plate of ground black pepper. The pepper jumped to the balloon in the same way…

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