By Kimberly Lopes, 3rd Grade Teacher, Memorial School in Upton, Massachusetts
"We’re like REAL superheroes… super recyclers!"
My third grade students wrote and produced a commercial to promote the Crayola ColorCycle program at Memorial School and in our school community. Through this program, Crayola partners with JBI, Inc. in Niagara Falls, NY to recycle and repurpose used-up plastic markers that would otherwise be thrown away. Crayola allows schools to ship boxes of recycled markers (of all kinds, not just Crayola brand) to NY free-of-charge, where the markers are melted down and turned into a clean-burning fuel that can be used to heat homes, power vehicles, and more. In just 2 months of school, we have already saved just shy of 1,000 markers from being thrown away. My students believe this commercial will help motivate families and businesses in the community to save their markers too-- and send them to Memorial School where our student will collect, count, sort, and prepare them to be given a new life!
I want to create an environment for my students where they feel safe to be curious and ask questions, are empowered to to take risks, see mistakes as an opportunity for growth, and collaborate to solve problems. My hope for my students is that they will grow up to be empathetic and compassionate adults and have the skills they need to solve problems.
My inspired learning experience began as a result of the desire to solve a problem-- how to reduce waste in schools. I first became aware of this opportunity over the summer when a friend shared a link on Facebook describing Crayola’s green initiatives. I did a little more research into the ColorCycle program and decided to reach out to my principal, Deb Swain, to see if she’d be on board for letting my third graders take charge of this initiative in the coming school year. She replied back in a snap and was excited to bring this program to Memorial!
In just the first few days of school, while we were still just getting to know each other and the routines and expectations in third grade, I introduced this problem to my students. I asked them to take a few days to observe how often they, their families, and the people around them use and discard plastic. In those days, my students shared their observations with each other. With each new observation, they wanted to learn more and more about where plastics go when they’re thrown away and what happens. We read articles and watched short videos to learn as much as we could about this issue, and the more we learned more about plastics, how they pile up in landfills (even when “recycled”), and continue to pile up because they never break down… the more the kids wanted to do something about it.
That’s when I introduced Crayola’s “ColorCycle” program. We agreed it’s just a small step in reducing plastic waste, but agreed that little things can eventually add up-- and you have to start somewhere. Now they were excited. Together, we came up with a plan for how we would organize the collection of markers at Memorial School. I’ll never forget this revelation from one of my third graders: “We need to make it easier to recycle markers than to throw them away. People do what’s easiest for them.” At 8 years old, that’s pretty insightful if you ask me! So, we decided to collect and repurpose small boxes to turn into classroom collection boxes. When a classroom filled their box, they could send a student to drop off their markers in our classroom. Alternatively, teachers could call us and we could send a student to pick up their collected markers, too. Once the markers got to us, we would count, sort, and collect the markers in a larger bin, which we would eventually ship to the factory once the bin was full. Just through word-of-mouth and my students’ own drive to collect markers at home, we saved 491 markers from being thrown away… in just 4 days of school. Even kids in the After School program convinced their teachers to let them test the markers and recycle those that didn’t work (to prevent other kids from throwing them away).
Once we had a plan, we decided we needed to start promoting the program to the rest of the school and community. I suggested we make posters, but the students decided that wasn’t quite right. “If this is about reducing waste… why would we make posters that will just get thrown away?” I can’t fully express the pride I felt as they respectfully discussed different ways to “get the word out” without creating too much additional waste. I don’t know if people-- myself included-- really give young kids the credit they deserve when it comes to their ability to creatively problem solve and work together. In the end, we settled on creating a commercial. Our goals for the commercial were to educate the public about our “big problem,” convince the audience to get on board with our solution, and provide information for how to participate.
Creating the commercial provided cross-curricular opportunities for my students to collaborate and act as leaders of their own learning in a variety of ways. Kids used graphic organizers to break-down the important aspects they wanted in the commercials, then worked as a class to create a storyboard using a combination of “all of our best ideas.” Once the script was written, we made several revisions (for the sake of time and clarity). In fact, revisions continued throughout the filming process. Mr. Quinn taught us how to mirror the iPad screen onto our SMARTBoard, so after filming a scene we would watch it back as a class and discuss what we liked and ways we could improve. While our actors worked together to practice their lines and make revisions to the script, our costume and set designers collaborated to make a plan for what each character would wear and what props we’d need. They also found background images and videos for the scenes that used the green-screen, as well as additional “supporting visuals.” This plan and the images required several revisions to accommodate our budget (“free or dollar tree”), image quality, and the needs of our student actors. Later, these students also made costume elements, such as capes using red satin pillowcases from the Dollar Tree. Meanwhile, our camera crew was trained on how to set up the tripod, film, record, and save the video clips we approved to Google Drive. They also collaborated to draft a rough timeline for filming, made checklists of each part that needed to be filmed, and worked on creating collection boxes for classrooms using recycled materials. All together, this commercial required math, research and collaboration skills, writing, art, and a lot of patience and creativity!
I knew my students were inspired about learning when they moaned when it was time to leave the classroom for recess-- they wanted to keep working on their project! This experience showcased each of my students’ unique traits and talents. It brought the best out of each of them because it was relevant and meaningful in the world beyond the classroom, and everyone had an important role to play. Years from now, when my students look back on this project, I hope they will remember what they were able to accomplish through hard work, research, creativity, and teamwork.
Some of the challenges I encountered included balancing ambition and great ideas with what was possible within the confines of our classroom and my own knowledge of technology. Luckily, I had the support of other great educators, like Mr. Dave Quinn and Mrs. Allison White to help with some of the tech roadblocks we encountered. My students also learned an important lesson of being flexible thinkers when things didn't always go as planned (or when our expectations didn't match reality). For example, our costume and set designers needed to revise their plan several times to accommodate our budget ("free or dollar tree") and the needs of the other students. The trial and error process to figure out how to best make our "ColorCyclers" fly was also my favorite part of the process. The kids watched back the footage and were unhappy with how it looked. To be more realistic, they wanted to put our fliers on different levels and make their capes/ clothes flutter. The set designers and camera crew worked on finding different ways to stack the actors (we ended up with a tall desk, a chair, and a pile of cushions under a green screen for 3 actors to lay across). The costume designers brainstormed ways to make the capes flutter. First, they tried a fan but it blew the green screen away. Later, they attached yarn to the capes and fluttered them from off-stage, but in the playback of the footage they realized you could see the yarn and weren't satisfied with how that looked. Finally, they realized using green rope would make it virtually "invisible" because of the green screen app we were using. (Thanks to Mrs. Henderson for just happening to have green rope!) Their collaboration and collective growth mindset was truly inspiring!
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