Going Green in Your Classroom – Earth Day Inspired Ideas (I’ve used these!)

April 22, 2021

My favorite Earth Day meme I’ve been sharing for years on Social Media. No idea who gets photo credit, but they rock!

This week, we will celebrate Earth Day, an annual event started in 1970 to inspire people to clean up our planet and make conscientious decisions in our everyday life. We see community celebrations, clean ups and crafts dedicated to this, but how can you apply this mindset to your classroom’s everyday practices.  Here are some ideas that I have tried out or were inspired by others.

Recycling bins. I’d be missing an opportunity here if I didn’t remind you to recycle in your classroom. Many communities have recycling pick up and can get bins for your classrooms and do pick ups at your school.  This will take some habit reformation since many students may use it as a trash can, or may not know what goes in it, so be thoughtful about your student population as you use this. 

Recycling markers, mechanical pencils, pens, and highlighters. There are many places that offer this service for *FREE*. Crayola allows you to ship boxes of dried markers directly to them for recycling. It is currently halted due to Coronavirus but subscribe or check in regularly to the Crayola Colorcycle site for it resuming. Staples also offers this service, so check with your local store to see how they are collecting them right now.

Create New Crayons from Old Ones. This is such a fun activity to do and a great use for old crayons!  Of course, you can find recycling programs for crayons, like those for markers, but in classrooms that go through crayons quickly, it’s much more fun to make your own! Just remove wrappers, cut into small pieces, and drop them into a muffin tin and bake in the oven until melted. Let them cool completely then pop them out!  And it’s okay if you don’t have a lot of one color, blended colors make for interesting combinations.

Change your lighting. If you are lucky enough to have windows, why not open those blinds and use natural light?  Not all lessons need reading light and fluorescents can be harsh on the eyes and those bulbs are terrible in the landfill!  You can also opt for LED lamps strategically placed around your room, so they use less electricity and last longer.  Plus, they create a more comfortable atmosphere, making your students feel at home.

Unplug that Tech cart.  If you have a technology cart for laptops or iPads, don’t leave it plugged in all the time.  You can plug it in after they are used to recharge, then unplug it until they all need charged again.  Same for your desktop or work computers.  It can be helpful to use a power strip for these so you can just flip a switch or, check your cart—some have a switch to turn off the power to the cart for this very reason.

Neglect the copier. Do you really need to make a copy for everyone, or will a class set work?  Does it need to be a full sheet, or can you make it a half or quarter sheet and cut it? 

Alternatives to copies.  Maybe your activity doesn’t need a copy at all, and you can use chalk or dry erase—a large one in the classroom, or small personal ones.  Your local home improvement store has dry erase and chalk boards to purchase.  Some of them can cut them into the 25-30 boards you need, although some are getting away from it, so you may need to do this yourself or enlist the help of someone you know that has tools.  Not an option? No problem!  Get sheet protectors and plain paper and DIY a set for yourself!  The benefit of this method is that you can drop a marker and a scrap of cloth (recycle that t-shirt, towel, or leftover fabric!) and now it’s all set for use.

Simplified supplies. If you plan well, you can get buy with not needing a ton of supplies in your classroom by using recycled items that are collected or saved, or by reusing the same item in a variety of ways. This will not only stretch your supply budget since you can order in bulk, but it will cut down on how much you must store, clean and inventory—and pack at the end of every year!

Outdoor classroom. Whether your school has an outdoor seating area or not, taking the class outside can be great for them, and for shutting down your classroom. Do give your students a heads’ up so they can bring a towel, blanket, or folding chair, in case this is an issue for them. I loved doing journaling days outside since it cut down distractions and allowed them to separate from each other to think. They loved it so much, they asked for the option anytime it was an independent/partner workday, so many days my classroom was open to both.  Just be sure your administration knows your location and supports the idea with safety protocols.

Earth friendly cleaning. Many of us were routinely wiping down our classrooms pre-Covid, but now we do it even more.  While those bleach wipes can be convenient, they are terrible for landfills.  There are many plant-based cleaning products or DIY recipes all over the internet that you could find and keep in a spray bottle.  Then, just use old t-shirts, towels, or rags for cleaning and you can wash and reuse them. If you don’t have any, don’t buy new—go to your local secondhand store and repurpose towels, rags, or t-shirts from there!

There are plenty of other things you can do, such as starting a garden or compost pile at school, crafts from recycled materials (have you seen the buildings they have made from 2-liter bottles?! Check out some of those HERE. You don’t have to go big and do everything but do what you can.  Not only will it make a difference for the planet, but you’ll be inspiring future generations by example and create many teachable moments in your room.

If you are looking for craft ideas with your kids or students, here a link to 30 Crafts and Activities Using Upcycled Materials are the ones my son and I are currently working through this month!

I’d love to see pictures or hear about your classroom applications! Like and comment below or find me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

How You Start Your Year Matters

Sonya Barnes                      July 25, 2019

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and that is especially true for teachers and how they run their first day, or first week, in their classrooms.  We have a ton of curriculum to do and, if we have been teaching for more than a few years, we have covered the expectations every year, so it can seem quite tempting to rush through it and get down to business.  But I don’t believe you should do that.  It may impact your entire year, at least, that has been my experience when I gave in and rushed through.  Yes, I know that many districts, schools and administrators push to start getting into the curriculum ASAP, and I don’t disagree that you should, but that doesn’t mean it should be the focus.  Shift the amount or type you do each day.  The first day is, as a former supervisor taught me, is all about “getting them in, getting them fed, and getting them out”.  That’s all you are going to accomplish while they learn the new routine and work out any logistical issues, no matter what grade level.

I suggest to have something quick, fun and related to your subject area to do that first day, and, if it’s a get to know you activity, make sure it’s not something that another teacher they will have them do that day—they can only do so many line up by birthday or two truths and a lie activities in a day. I teach multiple subjects, so I see some of the same kids twice. If you also have multiple preps, that is something else to keep in mind when planning.  I like to do a few different things that allow me to get to know them, see how they work with others and what their foundation and interest in the subject area is, and their learning/working styles without them even realizing I’m assessing them. 

For example, in my Intensive Reading classes, I will ask them to write down a book that something about it stuck with them, changed their life, etc. and why as I circulate and interact with them, then they share that with their table and, if they want to, with the class.  Then I share that my book was Harold and the Purple Crayon because it showed me that I don’t have to try and fit into the world but that I can help make the world fit for me since I think and learn differently.  We then spend time making a poster as though we are Harold and draw a world that we would fit into that aligns with our goals and write a quick blurb about it and we hang these up as a reminder. This takes us several days. In my ELA classes, I have them write a postcard they will get on the last day of school, they draw a picture of what they did over the summer on one side and write a note about their goals on the other, then I hold these for them until the last day.  On another day, I will have several quotes cut out on the table and have them choose the one that best fits them (they can share one) and share why with their tables and with the class, if they want.  The rest of the week I will have them do a round robin writing activity on various genres and topics (a humorous bad day of school, a scary holiday experience) and each writes one section (beginning middle end, or use the plot elements) but they must add onto what another group started.  In both subject areas this is worked around teaching and practicing school and classroom procedures, setting up computer programs or access that we use, and creating and organizing their portfolios. The end of the week I have a “quiz” on it and do something like go on a scavenger hunt to find the question and their answer leads to the next one and if they aren’t in order when we review, we reteach.  I also make a classroom tour video of all these things and post it to my Google Classroom so that they, or their parents, can see where everything is (this is also helpful if a new student comes in and needs a crash course). I give out tons of sincere praise and compliments, bragging about what their former teachers said, positive observations I’ve made, and entertain them with my terrible memory of names.

There are so many ways to start your year off right so that you can teach your students about rules, expectations, procedures, rewards and consequences.  And it will take excessive repetition since some will not have had positive classroom experiences previously so won’t pick it up as quickly.  There are many games and activities that have been handed to me over the years that I have an entire file folder and computer file filled.  I have so many that most I never even use, like get to know you ice breakers—I teach at a K-8 school so they know each other so well that they are counting down their last year to get away from each other and meet new people instead of the same 90 kids they’ve grown up with.

If you teach with a team, look at ways that you can make life easier and parallel what you do to make it easier for your kids.  I remember one year we were expecting a group of kids that we were warned would be a behavior challenge.  Our team sat down and looked at our classroom management processes to see if we were confusing them and creating challenges.  We compromised and aligned what we did as much as we could so that we all had as many things the same as we could.  We then made a PowerPoint Slideshow for our team and we all used it to guide our procedure instruction for the week.  We were able to nip a lot of issues in the bud from the start just by simplifying their lives and giving them less to remember because that repetition reinforced the learning.  It was personally rewarding to find that I worked with a team of professionals as dedicated as I was to student success and willing to find compromise from practices we’d all held for years to help them succeed. 

I encourage you to truly reflect on your teaching and leadership style to see if there are things that you could modify or adapt to activities, and plan for, then it is easier to work in those activities.  For example, do you give a quiz on terms, places or dates for your subject area regularly throughout the year? Instead of a paper-based assessment, turn it into an activity with dry erase boards, relay runs to the board, or telephone game to the teacher.  Talk to other teachers at your school, in your social circles or in an online community (may I suggest the Facebook group Addicted to Teaching? 😉 ) and brainstorm ideas.  Go to teacher sale sites and find things you can print and use again for several years or rotate through.  Take those worn out icebreaker worksheets you’ve used for years and turn them into an activity to get them up and moving and allow you to see them in action—that visual data can tell you so many things about your learners in just a few minutes.  Whatever you choose to do the first week, let me stress this part—make sure it aligns with things you will do in your class all year.  Nothing is harder on a group of kids than having a teacher do “fun” team-based things the first week, then nothing but independent book work for the rest of the year (this is a bit of hyperbole to make my point, or so I hope).  It can really jeopardize the rapport you build with the kids that first week and those relationships you have with your kids are key to having a successful or stressful year.  A good rapport can decrease behavior issues and increase support from them when you have evaluations or those not feeling so hot days that we all have.  Keep in mind the idea that if it isn’t fun or interesting to plan, teach or grade, it probably isn’t a fun or interesting way to learn.  As kids change, we may have to compromise things we have always done for the sake of a stronger classroom environment that supports a new generation of learners.  In education we are blessed with a fresh start each year, so make the most of it and you will benefit from it all year long.