5 Ways to Bring Climate Activism into the Classroom


(Photo Credit: Dave Gingrich)

In the near future, climate realities will affect the livelihoods, health, and happiness of our nation’s students.

I am an apprentice at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and I study Climate and Society at Columbia University. I am also a 2012 Greater New Orleans alum, and miss the joy of being with students every day. Through both my research and experience in the classroom, I’ve come to believe that our teachers must prepare students to adapt to the impending climate changes, and more importantly, to step forward as leaders in this world.

With this in mind, I have drafted 5 concrete and no-fail ways you can bring climate activism into your classroom and prepare your students for our changing society.

1. Take small steps to create a more sustainable classroom.

There are many low-hanging fruits you and your students can go after to easily reduce your classroom’s carbon footprint. For example, preference technology over printing, allow students to wear jackets instead of using unnecessary amounts of heating, use natural light or ask administration to switch to LED light bulbs. These are all simple ways to create a lower-carbon classroom environment.

2. Get kids involved.

Teaching students about ecofriendly systems will help them contribute in a more sustainable way to the small steps your class is taking together. Many people don’t know the difference between items that can be recycled and items that must be trashed. This is just one example of a simple barrier that could confront your students’ ability to participate in climate solutions. Combat this by having students create a sign to show the differences between various types of recyclables or come up with a slogan that helps them remember.

3. Explicitly teach the “why” of energy conservation methods.

Make sure to back up all of your classes’ hard work by informing your students about the facts associated with worldwide climate change. NASA’s climate literacy pamphlet breaks down the issue of climate change in understandable terms. Other resources can supplement this information source (Bell Museum has a cool and informative animation), so students really understand the carbon cycle and how humans have altered it.

4. Incorporate environmental themes into classroom units.

There are many authors who deal explicitly with topics that help us realize why it is important to maintain the integrity and beauty of natural systems. Some powerful examples of works centered on these themes include Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition. Additionally, you can introduce students to environmental leaders such as Van Jones and Lisa P. Jackson through literature.

5. Celebrate students’ use of sustainable practices at school and at home.

Have students make monthly goals to become better at eco-friendly practices, and invite them to work on these at home as well. Find ways to celebrate their carbon-saving lifestyles in and out of the classroom.


To read more about climate change and the future of our world, click here.

Six Tips for Fostering Grit in our Youngest Learners

“We will be kindergarten readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners!” was the rallying cry of my pre-kindergarten classroom, as we began our morning meeting each day. A growing body of knowledge shows us that grounding students in literacy, math, science, and social studies makes them more than just kindergarten-ready – it prepares them for long-term school and life success. So does another essential trait which doesn’t fit neatly into any one subject area: grit.

Grit is a measure of a person’s determination, persistence, and self-control. Grit is what will keep your students from accepting failure, big or small, and from letting it hold them back. Some might think it has no place in describing three, four, and five year-olds, but the reality is that early childhood classrooms provide the perfect context for building these skills in children, the foundation for which begins at birth.

Today, grit will help kids in your classroom finish that puzzle (determination and persistence), cooperate in imaginary play with their classmates, and play simple board games (self-control). This sets the groundwork for a lifelong ability to pursue challenging long-term goals. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research, grit can also contribute to better grades and, in the long-term, contribute to higher earnings and a more positive view of their own life.IMG_2459

Teachers play a critical role in developing grit, and preschool/Pre-K teachers can do many things to help kids get “grittier.” Here are six things you can do:

  1. Get familiar with your state’s early learning standards. Many of the skills that underlie grit and self-control are right there in your state’s early learning standards/guidelines (each state calls theirs something unique!). Look for domain names like cognitive development, social & emotional development, general knowledge, or cognition. Becoming familiar with these standards will help you become a more intentional teacher.
  1. Keep the small promises you make to your students. Research shows that dependable adults help foster better self-control. Make sure that you’re keeping those small promises; when you say “I’ll be right back,” “I’m going to go grab the crayons for you,” “You can go back to finishing building that right after lunch,” do it to show that you follow through on your word. Have time in your daily schedule where you’re available to move around and work with students individually.
  1. Have children develop plans before heading to centers. Prior to letting students choose their centers (the independent learning stations you’ll see in early childhood classrooms) have students make a plan for what they’ll do in their center of choice. This might be having students choose their first center and “writing” down what they’ll do in that center prior to starting play. This will help children focus and sustain attention on the task they’ve planned and feel more autonomy over their own learning. A great model for planning for play is used in the High Scope curriculum.
  1. Get creative with sorting activities. Believe it or not, asking children to sort cards first by shape and then asking them to switch the sorting rule to sort the same cards by color is a sign of self-control. When children are asked to do something that might not be their natural instinct, their brain is forced to develop a certain level of self-control. Switching up the way you ask children to sort is just one way to develop flexibility and control within the brain.
  1. Point out when students persist. When you see students building something in the blocks center over and over or attempting to get their drawing just right, narrate what you saw: “I see your tower kept falling over, but you used smaller blocks on top and didn’t give up building” or “I saw you start your writing a few different times and you kept going to finish your drawing even though you looked frustrated!” Praise children’s effort instead of the outcome. Of course, young children might reach peak frustration and need to step away from a task for a bit and letting children know that taking a step back is OK is part of helping develop their persistence.IMG_1682
  1. Model these skills yourself! As you’ll soon see, your students notice your actions and hang on your every word. When you express frustration with a task, but persist in completing it and, if you do fail at a task, show your students how you can reflect on the problem and try again. I know when I planned a science experiment that didn’t work, I was embarrassed to fail in front of my students, but together we wrote down what went wrong and I brought new supplies to have a successful experiment the next day.

Though I wasn’t familiar with the word “grit” at the time, creating an environment in my classroom which fostered its various aspects helped ensure that the 20 children in my classroom, all in school for the first time, went from shyly entering through the door to becoming autonomous learners who were deeply engaged in the learning opportunities at hand. By implementing some of these tips, and identifying opportunities for expanding upon these ideas, you’ll see growth in all skill areas for students. Early childhood educators have long had a hand in proving that school-readiness goes beyond the typical academic subjects, and your kindergarten-ready readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners will be on your way to showing this from day one!

Sara Mickelson is an education specialist focused on early learning at the Rhode Island Department of Education and a Houston ’09 alumnus

5 Ways To Introduce Technology To Your Classroom Without Enough Technology

(Photo Credit: Blair Mishleau)

As the technology specialist at a school, I’m constantly running into issues (our computers haven’t arrived yet, the tech staff doesn’t have time to install them, my lab is being used for NWEA testing, etc.).

But, never fear. There are a lot of ways to get nerdy with kids without needing a laptop for everyone. Here are my tips – I’d love to hear some more, if you have them, in the comments!

1.)   Code.org. Live it. Love it. Code it.
This site is getting really well-known, but there’s a nice little niche that not everyone might know about. There are loads of “paper” activities that can teach little kiddos how to make a “program” and much more. It’s especially great as a primer before letting students use computers.

(Pro-tip: If you have even intermittent access to 3-10 computers, do stations. Have students who have mastered the paper activities move onto computers!)

2.)   Paper Keyboards.
This concept blew my mind. I thought kids would be like “Bro. Paper keyboards?” But they were more like, “Bro!! My own paper keyboard!!” The secret? Sell it like a used car salesman. My pitch: “Guys. Today you are getting your very own keyboard! You get to use it every week for the next few months. You need to make it your own. Spend the next 10 minutes decorating it!”

This is particularly awesome as you can have them draw on it and color specific keys. For example: we circle “home row” so they know where it is. We can practice it to death so they are ready when they get real computers (see #1!)

3.)   Get friendly with your co-workers.
I mean, this is generally good advice. But you most-likely have some computers in your building. They may be somewhat sad and decrepit, but I betchya you have some. Can you ask the teacher across the hall to borrow her two classroom computers for a week if, in exchange, she can borrow yours the next? Heck, bake some cookies. Do breakfast duty. You can work wonders with team work.

4.)   Videos.
If you have a projector, you can educate kids a whole lot on technology with simple videos. Start with the very term technology. Do you even know what it means, really? There are loads and loads of videos that can build kids’ wonder and excitement about tech, and built up their technical vocabulary. All of this matters, and is so often overlooked by “Oooooh, Shiny iPad!”

5.)  Donors. Choose.
See back to tip #1. You really only need 3-10 comptuers to get started with station work. Get 5 super-cheap ChromeBooks (or netbooks, if you must) through DonorsChoose. Yes, they have limited functionality. But they can word process, run lots of apps, and easily run typing programs and other such awesome stuff.

League of Lessons: Why Gaming Matters

African-american Male Playing Video Games

(Photo credit: Bigstock)

I was in the middle of a presentation to three hundred middle schoolers when a boy’s arm shot straight up so desperately that I thought it would separate from his body. I stopped, midsentence. Clearly this child had something incredibly important to ask and I just couldn’t ignore him.

Me: What’s your question?

Boy: Are you Xbox or Playstation? (I froze, realizing the magnitude of the question. Three hundred boys looked at me with bated breath.)

Me: I refuse to answer that.

Boy: Why?

Me: If I tell you, you’ll make an assessment of my character and intelligence.

Boy (mulling over my response): Fair enough.

Looking back on that moment, I don’t know how I knew that this was one of the better responses I could have given. But immediately after the presentation, I had three realizations: 1) I was very grateful to the teaching gods that somehow I answered that question correctly; 2) acknowledging the importance of his question was meaningful to the other students; and 3) I’d better educate myself much more about gaming as soon as possible.

But why was the question and my answer so important? 

Motivation Monday: Work and Love


Motivation Monday: Mistakes


Seven Tips to Ace Any Sample Lesson


It may come after a phone screening, or it may be part of a third interview—either way, eventually you’ll have to do a sample lesson. Teaching a lesson to a group of students you’ve never seen before, with the principal taking notes in the background, can be daunting. Check out our tips to help you ace it. The good news: with so many additional adults in the room, most students who pose a challenge are on their best behavior.


Do Your Homework 
Ask for information—the number of students, the technology you’ll have available, the room set-up (is there a rug? Are students in desks or tables?)—ahead of time.

You may be provided with a lesson template, or you may have to use your own. Either way, use the lesson plan as an opportunity to let the principal in on your thinking. Scripting out the introduction, directions, and content explanations will ensure that you’re confident, and (in case time runs out) will help the principal “see” the entire lesson.

The Power of Real Apologies in a Fake-Apology World

You might not need to go to these lengths to apologize. (Photo credit: butupa)

You might not need to go to these lengths to apologize. (Photo credit: butupa)

Apologies require the highest level of human capacity: mindful self-reflection and the ability to acknowledge another person’s experience. If that isn’t hard enough, it often requires putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability—often to the person to whom we are apologizing.

That’s why no one has ever woken up in the morning excited because they have to apologize to someone. Of course, it feels better in the long run, and yes, it’s the “right” thing to do, but usually we dread these moments. It’s why we so often come up with reasons not to apologize, like refusing to believe we’re wrong, excusing our behavior, blaming the other person, or thinking nothing we say will make a difference.

Adults often have the best of intentions; however, the way we teach children to apologize is often counterproductive. We often force them to apologize when they don’t mean it or we don’t understand what’s really going on. We demand they apologize, get angry with them when they refuse, and then don’t think to revisit what happened later when they’ve been given a chance to self-reflect. Or, we make them apologize but don’t realize or know what to do when they only apologize to get themselves out of trouble.

But there is a lot on the line: how you as a teacher model and teach giving and accepting apologies matters. If you handle these moments well, you are giving young people a foundation for their ethical development. If you don’t, you miss a critical opportunity to demonstrate your values in action and it decreases your credibility as an ethical authority figure.