(June 1, 2011) – Earlier this year, select Old Dominion University (ODU) students immersed themselves in regional environmental topics as part of a pilot program with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission’s HR Green initiative. Katherine Jackson, a senior lecturer in the English Department at ODU’s Virginia Beach campus, conducted a service- learning project related to HR Green for her advanced composition class earlier this spring. Service-learning projects give students the opportunity to put the critical thinking and writing skills they learn in the classroom to use in the community. As the semester unfolded, Jackson’s students, most of whom are future elementary education teachers, developed lesson plans, wrote mini-grant proposals, penned research articles and wrote letters to the editor—with a focus on service-learning and such HR Green topics as recycling, efficient water use, storm water awareness and proper ways to dispose of fats, oils and grease. Jackson described the outcomes as “awesome” when HR Green Campaign Update caught up with her this month.
- After your students studied about service-learning in general, how did you introduce them to the HR Green topics?
I told them from the beginning that our project would be an environmental service project in coordination with HR Green. To get started, we took a look at the HR Green blog, where information for each of the environmental categories resided. They reviewed other links provided by HR Green and conducted their own research to familiarize themselves more with the topics that were of interest to them. Julia Hillegass and her staff also joined the class one day and provided us with a presentation that was extremely helpful and encouraging for them.
- How did they respond to the assignment?
They were surprisingly unfamiliar with the term “service-learning.” Once they learned more about it and conducted their own research, they were extremely enthusiastic about the assignment. They realized, even though they were not familiar with the term, they had participated in their own service-learning projects in the past that involved recycling projects, food drives, work on oyster reefs and things of that nature. They also were enthusiastic about the environmental slant of the project.
- What were the project outcomes?
They started by developing summaries of articles on service-learning, followed by a traditional academic research paper, lesson plans that followed the Standards of Learning guidelines set forth by the Virginia Department of Education, a commentary that could be used as an opinion editorial for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper or an educational journal and a mini-grant proposal as if they would be applying funds for a project.
- Describe some of the lesson plans.
The lesson plans were awesome! They developed plans that included everything from building bat houses to limit the need for pesticides, to working with senior citizens on beautification projects, to building butterfly gardens with native plants. All of their lesson plans linked closely to the Virginia Standards of Learning, provided detailed instructions and materials lists, incorporated differentiated instructional strategies, and best of all—created fun opportunities for students to learn to be good stewards of the environment. The “FOG Super Heroes” lesson plan was a really good one. It begins by asking students to think about their favorite super heroes. Then, through a variety of activities, they learn how fats, oils and grease detrimentally affect their environment. They eventually create and decorate FOG jars to take to Earth Day events and distribute to the public with brochures. Another lesson plan, in a similar vein, taught students to be “Recycling Detectives,” identifying things in their classroom that were recyclable.
- Do you feel your students benefitted from this semester’s studies?
Absolutely. On the last day of class, we did some informal writing and discussed the outcome of the class. Did they feel the focus was a good one? Did they feel they benefited? How would they recommend I address the topic of serving- learning in the future? Everybody said they thought service-learning was a good focus and that the lesson plan project proved to be a great instructional tool. These students are future teachers, and they were excited about implementing the service-learning lessons in their own classrooms.
- What was the experience like for you?
I was a little bit uncomfortable at first because I was asking my students to produce products I had never produced before. I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I’ve tended to use assignments that work well and that I have honed over time. I didn’t know exactly what I was asking them to do! So there was some discomfort in implementing a new project and new method of teaching. In the future, instead of mandating the topic, it would perhaps be more satisfying for them to come up with a project themselves, then go out into the community and implement it as part of the semester’s work. Overall, it was a really good experience for me, and it’s something I would consider doing again.