In Japan, it’s the norm for teachers to visit the homes of each one of their students once a year. They are usually invited in for a cup of tea and a short chat about the pupil in question before heading off to the next family down the road. It’s not a practice I can imagine getting much uptake in Ireland (from either side of the teapot). To most Irish people, it may seem highly intrusive and definitely ‘a bridge too far’.
So how can we reduce the gap between home and school in ways that are fun, focussed, and not too up close and personal and how can we build bridges that create community and make our classrooms agents of positive change in the world. Here are three activities with an environmental slant that you could try with your students this year*.
A family out making the world better. And having fun doing it.
1. Eco Surveys
Discuss the topic of plastic waste in the environment by using videos and materials from the Internet. After teaching your pupils about where plastic comes from, what are the main sources of plastic waste and the volume of plastic entering the oceans (8 million tonnes a year), discuss the damage that waste plastic can do to marine life. Creatures can be harmed through getting caught up in plastic in their habitats or through ingesting the plastic. There are plenty of images on the Internet showing sea creatures being harmed by plastic items including the iconic image of the turtle that has grown into the shape of the 6-pack beer rings around it s body with its shell completely changing shape. Children find this image very moving and it really brings the issue home to them.
Explain how plastic can enter the food chain and how even the smallest of sea creatures, such as plankton, have been found to be eating tiny pieces of microplastics. Tell students that they have the power to make choices that have an impact on an issue like single use plastic, Set them the task of recording the number of various different single-use plastic items their family used in the course of the week. At the end of the week, students report back to their classmates and compare notes. Following this, students can pledge to try and reduce the amount of plastic in their lives by making certain choices (refusing sachets and straws for example). Students can also observe what types of litter are ending up in the environment in their neighbourhood, by doing this survey in English or Irish and reporting back to school. By raising awareness, you will have set your students up to have a positive impact and will have started a ripple effect through your teaching.
Litter Survey from the Picker Pals Funbook
2. Picker Pals
Picker Pals is a popular environmental programme for lower primary school classes. Through a fun character-led song, story and educational world, the programme equips and motivates children and their families to go on litter-picking adventures and report their action to their classmates, taking the first steps to becoming young environmentalists.
Picker Pals is currently recruiting suitable schools to receive this fully funded programme for the 2021-22 school year. Principals and class teachers should express their interest through the Schools Interest Form here.
Mention Rahoo on your form where it asks why you want to do the programme and you might just find yourself getting priority boarding…who knows?!
Each classroom receives a unique Picker Pod containing two fun books for every child in the class; a reader and an activity book. The heart of the programme is the Picker Pack which contains all the tools needed for an adult and child to go out litter-picking. Each week, the pack is taken home by a different child who leads an adult family member on a short litter-pick in their neighbourhood.
The programme is supported with regular thirty-minute Picker Pals TV ‘shows’ delivered directly to the participating classrooms throughout the year. These shows feature environmental education presented in a fun and digestible way, news from the Picker Pals community and special guests. There are also puppets, quizzes and competitions for classes to interact with.
Philip O’Brien, a 1st Class Teacher from Scoil an Athar Tadgh in Carrignavar was enthusiastic about Picker Pals. “It’s a simply awesome initiative that connects school to community with a joint sense of purpose. The pupils were incredibly enthusiastic to be given the opportunity to take the pack home. Many of them elected it as a key highlight of their year. I received many emails from parents with the line ‘Who knew picking litter could be so fun?’ when describing their child’s excitement. I think that over time this initiative will have a significant impact on attitudes in our local area. It has been one of the most meaningful messages I have helped to communicate in my teaching career.”
Parents have also wholeheartedly endorsed Picker Pals. The father of a 1st Class pupil in Sutton, County Dublin spoke of how his son “has this new awareness about the environment in which he lives and taking responsibility for it. The idea of him littering himself is almost unthinkable because he realises the consequences that it can have. At the same time, one of the other real benefits that he’s shared with his brother is that we can have a very direct impact in terms of doing something for your community. The Picker Pack makes it so easy. As a parent you don’t have to think about it at all. Once they get the pack, they’re the boss. They have the Picker Pack and they get to take their adult out!”
Participation in the programme is fully funded so there is no cost to participating schools who receive all the materials thanks to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Local Authorities and philanthropic and corporate sponsors. Participation will be allocated to a limited number of schools in each authority.
The Picker Pod arrives in the classroom. The hugely exciting unboxing moment!
3. Two Peas in a Pod
This activity is a good one for the springtime. Explain the concept of biodegradability to your class and how using biodegradable is best. Show children how to make an easy and biodegradable newspaper pot. You can find a pdf here of instructions and watch a video here of Eliya Lavigne of Seed Scholars demonstrating how to make such a pot. Distribute two pea seeds to each student.
Make and fill the pots together as a class with each child planting their own peas. The pots can be painted or decorated with cut-out shapes stuck on or just sent home as they are. Sugar snap peas are recommended as they grow easily and are very tasty. Students report their peas’ progress back to their classmates and you can even create a display poster with photos of the children’s horticultural achievements on it.
Patrick Jackson is an Oxford University Press author of courses for primary schools and the creator of the popular Picker Pals environmental programme. Having spent 12 years teaching English to students of all ages in Japan, he returned to Ireland in 2008 and has since then been writing, litter-picking and visiting schools in a magical cloak decorated with hundreds of pieces of marine debris picked off the beach near his home in Howth.
*Imposter Alert! The author has never, for even a minute taught in a primary school in Ireland. He has visited lots of them to talk about environmental matters and parented two children as they progressed through primary school but all suggestions in the article above should be taken with a pinch of salt. Apart from Picker Pals. No salt needed there. Just sign up your classroom and let’s clean up this place. It’s needed and you’ll be part of a community of 1200 classrooms.
P.S. Our upcoming CPD webinars are now available for booking! Webinars include topics such as effective marking & feedback, differentiation, behaviour management and lesson planning!
This year has been a unique year and while it can be a time of joy, rest & relaxation, the holidays can bring a lot of demands such as financial, social and family commitments. While, you can’t choose when Christmas comes, you can choose to help yourself get through it.
It’s that time of year again!
Let’s be honest, the Late Late Toy Show is the official start of Christmas in Ireland!!
If you want to bring the festivities into your classroom, here are some resources we found (including a game for teachers!!).
Primary school principal of St Brendan’s Ns, Blennerville, Tralee, Co. Kerry. I love my role as school Principal, in particular it’s variety and the daily interactions of all within the school community. I have an Instagram platform where I share my philosophy, it’s called @positiveprimaryprincipal.