Wednesday, July 22, 2009

a more green classroom

last year, in my three courses - intro to media studies, digital media production, and eating san francisco - i included the following rule:

No drinking out of non-reusable containers. Be creative with your thirst-quenching solutions.

at first, a few students grumbled and complained but within a week or so, students got the hang of it. students began bringing to class beautiful, multicolored, reusable bottles filled with homemade tea and canteens filled with coffee they brewed themselves or bought at the campus cafe. substituting glass bottles filled with delicious - and free - california tap water for plastic bottles of water and soda, we saved a ton of money over the course of the semester. but best of all, we all became a bit more mindful of our daily actions and the need for all of us, individually and collectively, to change our behaviors and change them quickly.

as i begin to think about my fall course, i'm curious to hear other strategies for a more green classroom. i'm also curious to hear from students - both those who have taken my courses and those who haven't - about what they think about such rules.


Vitak said...

I think your heart is in the right place, but I don't like the absolute restriction. What if I'm behind and need to make the decision between being 10 minutes late to your class and spending that time searching my apartment for my canteen or be on time for your class and grab the water bottle sitting on my counter?

Also, it depends on your definition of "reusable." I have been using the same plastic water bottle for months now, but it seems like it wouldn't be allowed in your classroom.

Did you take time in class the first day to go over why you had decided to do this and engage the class in a discussion about the pros and cons? As much as I agree with you that most people don't take the time to think about the consequences of their actions when it comes to the amount of waste created from things like bottled water, I can't support you, for example, making a student remove a soda bottle from the classroom.

The Sheck said...

Oh David Silver, this is great thinking. Here a few ideas:
1. Hand in all assignment electronically. This might be a change for you more than your students.
2. Take the time to have IT come in and teach everyone how to make their computer settings energy efficient. Or, have them blog/tweet/flickr how they save energy on their computers, game consoles, phones, whatev.)
3. How is your classroom lit?
4. Extra credit if you bike or take public transit to class. How hard can that be in San Francisco? Maybe taking it isn't enough but 2.0-ing it is.

Four's my lucky number so I will stop there. But I'll keep it in my head and try to post again. LOVE IT!!

Brian Burke said...

I think these rules are totally appropriate and I support them. You have solid ground behind why you enforce them, and it is your classroom so you can make the rules. Some may call that an abuse of authority, but I simply call it, "authority." I just saw the post so I'm going to try to think of new ideas for you. Til then, rock on!

Ivan Chew said...

Hi David, did any students float those rules and how do you enforce it? I suspect you don't really enforce it per se. Perhaps more accurate to ask how you encourage the majority to adhere to the rules.

david silver said...

brian - thanks for the comment! coming from a student who has been in one of my classes, your comment holds a lot of weight!

hey ivan!

in each class, the rule got broken once or twice. in each case, when i saw a student drinking from a plastic water bottle, i'd stop class (lecture, discussion, or whatever we were doing at the time), face the student, and say, "um, you're drinking from a plastic bottle." in most cases, the student got really embarrassed. (in one case, the student claimed that she planned to bring the plastic bottle to class for the rest of the semester. "really?" i asked. and she seemed to understand that, no, that really wasn't going to happen.) instead of deliberately trying to get the student *more* embarrassed, i simply said, "don't make it happen again, ok?" and they didn't. i do not believe one rule-breaking student broke the rule twice.

but the real key was/is, as you suggest, encouraging the majority to come up with creative solutions. when students brought in particularly beautiful glass bottles of water (think gorgeous cobalt blue, greens, yellows), i'd often stop my lecture mid-sentence, walk over to the student, and say something like, "that's a beautiful bottle." other student would quickly chime in - "yeah, cool!" - and the beautiful bottle-toting student would smile. many times students would tell other students where they found their bottles and the next week similar bottles would appear in class.

deets said...

I love the fact that you followed through with the money saving at the end. Nice job! I think it is easy to get caught up in consumerist habits that feel convenient, but then we lose track of the real impacts.

I was waiting for my daughter in the quad of an elementary school and inside was an assembly where kids were getting awards for being greener at school. They made commitments at the beginning of the year to do things like bring silverware to school for a cafeteria lunch or only do their homework on recycled paper. They all did calculations to figure out the waste they had saved.

It was great to see these little kids get up and talk about the difficulties of implementing these changes, but also of the rewards that they felt.

Molly said...

Hi. I'm currently teaching a composition course at the university of Montana. We have a department wide theme of "sustainability" for the semester, so I'm implementing your policy. I'll let you know how it goes.

(I learned about your blog via erik marshall

I am :)

david silver said...

Molly - AWESOME! i'd love to hear how it goes. i'd also really, really like to learn more about the department wide theme of sustainability for the semester. thank you for your comment.