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Developing compassionate, caring and responsible citizens for better social worlds.

Environmental Awareness Activities 2:
Making Change

How to Use CosmoTweenz Environmental Awareness and Action scenarios

In dropdown panels like this one, you will find:

  • relevant definitions
  • a brief guide to each of the three scenario categories
  • citations and links to relevant research and background information about environmental
    awareness and environmental issues
  • 24 environmental awareness and action scenarios, each of which
    • has background information
    • comes with five sets of guiding questions
    • corresponds to an illustration

The same five characters reappear throughout– feel free to name them!

Most scenarios in category 1 and all in category 3 have accompanying narratives

Most scenarios in categories 2 and 3 come with a link to a relevant news article, many of which are found on NewsE/LA1.

The scenarios are aimed at helping young people bridge their sense of awareness and perspective-taking from people to other living things. They are arranged in three categories: Noticing Your Surroundings, Making a Change at Home or at School, and Connecting to Others. We want to be honest in representing environmental issues as complex without inducing hopelessness. The scenarios aim to expand empathy and give young people opportunities to act. You can move through them in whatever order supports you best, and use as many or as few as you like. Each scenario is meant to be discussed over the course of five sessions of about 10-15 minutes each, with the fifth being expandable. Some examples of formats for discussion include:

  • spending 10 minutes of circle time on this each day, moving through a card in a week
  • using the scenarios/activities weekly, taking five weeks or a unit to go through one scenario
  • using the cards to support or lead into a specific curricular unit

The more you and your student/s use CosmoKidz Environmental Activities, even for a few minutes, the more you will build a routine and the accompanying skills together

During the discussion time, we suggest that

  • teachers have reviewed the chosen scenario ahead of time, looking out for ways that the scenario relates to students’ personal experience in productive and/or traumatic ways
  • the relevant illustraton is visible to students (projector, tablet, etc.) if possible.

We also recommend that each classroom/teacher develop their own consistent routine for discussion (pair share vs whole group vs small group), using it throughout the year.

1. NewsELA membership required.

Relevant definitions

We hope these scenarios act as a tool and not a prescription. To that end, here are some guidelines and

definitions to help:

Observation: When we ask people of any age to “observe” they often look for what they expect, or seek evidence to back up their assumptions. But when we say “observe” or “notice” here, we want students to pay attention to what is actually going on. What do they see, hear, smell? What surprises them? What do they miss the first time?

Feelings: Here is a great opportunity to practice specific language. Encourage students to go beyond “good” or “bad”. You might ask, “what did it feel like in your body?” or brainstorm examples such as sweaty hands, a fast heartbeat, etc. Try asking “what kind of good?” Did they feel peaceful, energized, excited? Or “talk about another time that you felt similarly.” Was it the kind of “bad” you felt after hurting a younger sibling, or when you were sick?

Perspective taking and “others” : The line between empathizing and projecting is thin. While we are asking students to try to imagine what something might feel like to another, we never want to assume that we know someone else’s experience. It can be helpful to start by asking “how do you think you would feel?” and to remind students that they can’t know how others feel without asking. Some students or their loved ones may have personal experience with scenarios on the cards. Prioritize giving those students a chance to share first if they want to . Use your judgement about whether to skip a card if it may bring up past trauma.

Taking Action: There is always something we can do. And some problems have been caused by and may need to be fixed by large institutions or those with power. The idea is not to take large action on every card. We often included prompts like “what else would you want to know about this?” Sometimes learning more is a great step to take. And we hope that some cards may help you launch projects or units that are already in your plans. Use these to get students excited about nonfiction reading and writing, research, persuasive essays, etc.

Finding Balance: We wrestled a lot with the question of complexity. Sometimes we lie to children about the complexities of the world to protect them, leaving them confused and distrustful later when they learn more. Sometimes in trying to be honest, we overwhelm. We tried to strike a balance. Research shows benefits from connection to nature, both for individual outcomes1 and in terms of environmental action.2 The sense of empowerment that young people can get from making changes at the classroom, home, or school level can create momentum that carries through their lives3. And, our most severe environmental problems cannot be solved by individual behavior changes. We included cards at all three of these levels in the hopes of striking a balance. And we trust that you will use the mix and balance of cards that makes sense in your context, which you know far better than we do.

Looking for more resources? You can always check the CosmoKidz website for up to date posts with relevant articles, resources, and notes from other educators!


1 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916508319745

2 https://naaee.org/eepro/research/library/sense-place-environmental-education

From the CosmoKidz TM logo educational series, produced by the CMM Institute

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Goals:

● Students practice linking cause to effect– noticing a situation and figuring out how to
 make it better.

● Students get opportunities to experience the ways their actions can create small changes in their own surroundings and in their communities.

● Students practice taking the perspective(s) of others.

Day 1 is about simply giving the instruction to go out and notice. You might scaffold a bit by talking together about what observation is. Deepening practice: Building on math units, think about ways of recording quantitative data. Ex: a scatter plot of different categories of trash, weighing food waste in the cafeteria, etc.

Day 2 is about sharing the observations and feelings. Try to focus the conversation on sharing what students noticed and felt, and on finding patterns, rather than judging the observations or the actions related to them. Deepening practice: record the observations in a visual way so that it is easier to find patterns, similarities, and differences.

Day 3 is about imagining how others might feel, and/or how you might feel when taking on a
different perspective. It’s important not to speak for others but rather to try to empathize.
Deepening questions: what is making you think that? What clues could help us figure out if
that is really what’s going on?

Day 4 is about how this issue might affect others and beginning to brainstorm actions you
could take as individuals or as a class.

Day 5 Day 5 is open to brainstorm about or do some action related to what has come up. These could be additional question for investigation, connected to a curricular unit that’s coming up. They could be short, small actions like picking up trash. Or they could lead into larger projects if desired and possible.

9. Trash at Your School

Guiding Questions
Instructor Directions

Note: Be thoughtful about how to phrase these questions based on the level of food insecurity at your school. Make sure to phrase them in ways that acknowledge and account for the fact that “people who don’t have enough food” likely include at least someone in your class or someone they know. Feel free to adapt the questions as needed.

Narrative:

Food waste often goes to the dump and when it rots it creates gases that go into the air. These gases create something like a blanket around the earth. That means that when the planet is warm, they keep it warmer, which can lead to all kinds of problems like making it harder to grow food, or for certain animals and plants to live, or making weather more extreme like hurricanes and droughts. We also know that when we’re hungry, it just doesn’t feel very good to see food get wasted. This week’s card is about noticing when and if food is getting wasted and trying to find out why. Or if food is not getting wasted, trying to find out if there is enough food for everyone at your school.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Spend the day noticing your campus.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

Do you notice trash on the ground? Where do you notice it? What kind of trash? How did it smell? What feelings did you notice inside of you when you saw the trash?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think other people on your campus feel when they see trash on the ground at school?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What types of animals do you see on your campus? How might trash on the ground affect them? How do you think the trash is affecting how you be together? What could we do to help?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on an action. This could range from spending time before the end of the school day picking up trash, for the next month or week all picking three pieces of trash each in the schoolyard each day, or something much bigger.

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10. Wasting Food at Lunch

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Spend time noticing how you and the people at school are handling their food. Does food get thrown away? What kind of food? What do you think happens to that food? What about things like apple cores and banana peels that we can’t eat?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What feelings did you notice inside when you notice food being thrown away? What feelings do you notice inside when/if you don’t have enough to eat?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think the people who made the food feel if it gets thrown out or if it all gets eaten? How do you think the people who clean up feel? What about the people who grew the food? Do you know anyone who grows, cooks, cleans up, or serves food as their job? How do they feel when people waste or eat all of the food they worked on?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What can you do to help change the food waste at your school? What would help you see that it made a difference?
Note: if most of what is going to the trash is not edible, how could that waste still be reduced?

Day 5 ~ Do

If food is going to waste, try to find out why. Do some kids not like the food? Are there foods that some kids cannot eat because of their allergies or traditions? Is there enough time for kids in your school to finish eating or are they rushed? If no one is throwing away any food, try to investigate whether kids are getting enough to eat. Are there any things you can do to help change things?

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11. Saving Electricity at School

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Spend the day noticing where electricity is being used when it is not needed (lights on in classrooms, computers being on/on standby without them being used etc.). What questions are you noticing in yourself about saving electricity?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What feelings did you notice inside of you when you saw electricity turned on when no one was using it?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

There are people who don’t have reliable electricity and you might even know some of these people or have had this experience yourself. How do you think or know they would feel if they noticed wasted electricity?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you think can happen when people don’t have electricity when they need it? Has this ever happened to you or someone you love? If so, what was it like? What can you do to help change the waste (of electricity) at your school or your house? What can you do to help people know more about their electricity use? What would help you see it made a difference?

Day 5 ~ Do

Help make your school/community less wasteful. Help people feel more excited about saving electricity.

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12. Saving Electricity at Home

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Spend some time at home noticing where electricity is being used when it is not needed (lights on in rooms when no one is there, TV on when no one is watching, etc.). What questions are you noticing in yourself about electricity?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What feelings did you notice inside of you when you saw electricity turned on when no one was using it? What patterns did you notice about when electricity was being used?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think adults in your house who pay the electricity bill feel when electricity is wasted?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you think can happen when people don’t have electricity when they need it? Has this ever happened to you or someone you love? If so, what was it like? What can you do to help change the habits at your house? What would help you see it made a difference?

Day 5 ~ Do

Help make your house less wasteful by thinking of ways to share your new knowledge with people. Help people feel more excited about saving electricity.

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13. Trash in the Classroom

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Notice what is in your classroom’s trash can at the beginning, middle, and end of the day. Spend the day noticing what your class throws away. Talk about what you notice in the photographs of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from the article.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What feelings did you notice inside of you when you saw the photos? What feelings did you notice inside of you when you were throwing things away?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine it feels to live near a landfill? Or, if you do live near one, how does that make you feel? How does/might it smell? How do you imagine animals whose habitat is near the trash island feel? Where do you think most of the things in our trash can came from originally? Who do you think was affected by the process of making that stuff, and how? What questions do you have?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you imagine will happen if we, and everyone else, continue to throw away so much every day? How might it affect our community, other people, animals? What can we do to reduce the amount of trash we create?

Day 5 ~ Do

Help your community produce less trash using ideas that you brainstorm. Think about reusing and recycling. How can you get others excited about your ideas? AND/OR Investigate one or more of the questions that came up about trash. What more would you like to learn?

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14. What’s in Our Trash?

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

We’ve spent some time noticing how much trash we made. This week notice what is in the trash at home or at school. You could even take notes or make a graph. What patterns do you notice? Is there something that is most common?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How does it feel to notice these patterns? How does it feel to pay closer attention to what is going into the trash?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Now that you’ve noticed specifics about what is in the trash, imagine who (people, animals, other living things) was part of making these things that are getting thrown away. How might they feel seeing your trash can?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Where might some of our most common pieces of trash come from? How might making them (ie paper, plastic) affect the people, plants, and animals in those places? What could we do to help?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for whatever actions students brainstorm that are manageable given space/time constraints. Anything from reducing/reusing/recycling, to writing thank you notes to those who make our stuff, to investigating a question more deeply in connection to a curricular unit you are teaching.

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15. Where Does the Rain Go?

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

On a rainy day, try to notice where the rain is going. Where does it move and where does it stay still? Can you follow it when it’s moving and figure out where it is going? If it doesn’t seem to be flowing, what happens?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How did it feel to pay attention to moving water? What sounds did you notice? What questions did you notice inside of you?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Usually things don’t stay wet forever, so where might the water go, and what might it touch and bring with it on the way? How might the water affect people, plants, and animals as it moves through your community?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

It may take a combination of observation and research to make sense of these questions. Think about what the water affects in its path (does it destroy things, make moving around harder, bring much needed water to plants, fill up your reservoir?) and what it brings with it to its final destination (does it gather leaked gas from cars on the road, trash, soil nutrients that it brings down to plants’ roots?).

Day 5 ~ Do

As you’ve noticed and pointed out, water is important for all life on Earth. And it can also be destructive. What can we do in our community or in our school to help make sure rain water has more positive than negative effects? (examples could range from rain barrels and ollas to help collect/save water in drought prone areas, to reducing pollutants that get into water and then into the ocean/soil in rainier areas, to just picking up litter so that it doesn’t clog gutters.)

16. Foods We Love at Home

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

What are some of your favorite foods? Focus on foods made by family members or that feel connected to special occasions or events. Invite students to share the smells, tastes, textures. Make a big list.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What are the ingredients of these foods that we love? Connect each dish back to the plants or animals that are the basic ingredients ( example: potato chips/fries → potatoes, pizza → wheat, tomatoes, cows, tacos → corn, salsa ingredients, avocados, etc). Where do we get the ingredients for these foods?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine it would feel to grow some food for yourself or people you love? How might that food taste? Have you ever grown food? Was it easy, challenging? How do you imagine the world would look, feel, smell, taste, if people only grew a few plants instead of all of the things we love?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

When we don’t take care of the earth, it can get harder and harder for us and farmers to grow the foods we love. For example, if it doesn’t rain enough or it gets too hot or cold. How can we learn more about how our favorite foods are grown, or to make it easier for people to grow our favorite foods?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for whatever actions are most accessible/reasonable in your setting. Some ideas include choosing one thing to grow as a class, writing a thank you note to farmers, learn about a new-to-you food that grows in your area, or connect any environmental act to allowing farmers to keep growing things we love.

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