learn to love to learn

Students take action for the environment and win a local Film Festival!

The Star Academy Senior Class embarked on a learning journey with an ever-changing destination! In September, they registered to take part in the WaterDocs @ School Programme, offering Grade 8 classes a chance to create a documentary based on a social action project to advocate water conservation. Since taking the first exploratory steps into learning about water, the Senior Students built an online Social Media campaign that is sweeping through eco-educational circles like wildfire!

Content Learning

The first step to any project is the background research and building of a solid knowledge base. The WaterDocs @ School project began with lesson plans developed by LSF (Learning for a Sustainable Future). The students engaged in an exploration of ecological issues surrounding water, including sustainability and fresh water availability for the world’s population. Students learned about the water cycle, water systems, ecosystems, and water uses around the world. This provided a foundation from where to begin looking for local water issues that could be tackled.

A large part of the inspiration for the project was the viewing of a documentary by the TVO duo, The Water Brothers. Students watched “Carpageddon” and learned about a particular invasive species of Asian Carp that are migrating towards the Great Lakes. Students learned about why this was a danger to local ecology and industry. They also had a chance to participate in a live webinar with The Water Brothers to ask questions about the documentary and the film-making process.

Building an Action Project

Once their motivation was sparked by The Water Brothers, students brainstormed their own environmental action project. It was important to choose a cause that was local and feasible with the limited time and resources available. Before long, students collaboratively agreed to investigate road salt use in the GTA and how it was affecting local watersheds. They got very excited about being able to launch a social media campaign using YouTube videos, Facebook and Twitter, and they named their campaign “Kids Against Road Salt” (KARS).

From a teacher’s perspective, it was remarkable how many aspect of the curriculum and important 21st century learning skills this project would cover. Students were divided into ‘departments’ that would collaborate on and delegate tasks that needed to be completed to successfully launch our campaign. Each student had an opportunity to undertake projects that reflected their strengths and others which challenged them. Their individuality and creativity was evident in everything they undertook and planned, and they learned much along the way about the revision and editing process with a variety of different media.

Along the way, students were honoured by the offers of assistance that were given from influential community members! EcoTraction started following our campaign on Twitter, which led to a guest speaker in our classroom, complete with EcoTraction demonstration and free samples for the school and our students to try at home! Lou Solakofski from Tattersall Sound Studios treated us to a private screening of Watermark, which inspired and awed us to reflect on our visions for our own project. Branda Dale, a professional photographer and retoucher volunteered many hours in our classroom to help with the photography, stop-motion animation and photo-quote editing. Jeff Hartford, a professional music composer for television, movies and video games joined the movement to help KARS students compose their own original music soundtrack for our final documentary!

Documenting & Reflecting

The entire project was undertaken with the purpose of documenting it to share at the WaterDocs Film Festival. In that spirit, we made efforts to photograph and video the steps along the way. We have a story to tell, which began with the action project, but really represented a learning journey for each and every student and teacher involved. A large part of the project was reflection for the purpose of setting goals. This became important for both students and teachers in order to keep the project’s pieces coming along smoothly and ensure that everyone was demonstrating progress individually.

What was remarkable was that in each reflection interview, students could not only recite facts about road salt and their environmental impacts, but most often listed student skills’ as what they were most proud of learning through this project. Students were proud of making videos, editing photos, being leaders, learning new software and working with new people! As a teacher, this is a greater achievement than any quantitative measurements of the success of our action project!

Celebrating Success

The Kids Against Road Salt documentary was showcased at the WaterDocs International Film Festival School Day on March 26, 2014. Their project was awarded the special honour of “Best Project” and first prize among the student documentary films. This was a very satisfying and exciting culmination to months of research, production and learning!

This project, while daunting initially, gave all involved a wonderful insight and experience in real-life action research and entrepreneurial skills that our students can be proud to take away. Learning to love to learn – it’s what they do!