Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spin the Wheel, Go Fish and Calculate Your Carbon Footprint


Do you drink New York City tap water? Do you turn off the water when you brush your teeth? How often do you eat meat? How much of your own food do you grow?

These are questions seventh -and eighth-grade students at the Urban Assembly School for the Urban Environment in Bedford-Stuyvesant will soon be asking themselves. They will be taking part in Renewable NYC, a program given by the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) and funded by National Grid.

Last Thursday, National Grid employees met at CUE to experience first-hand the program they’re gifting to the Brooklyn school.

Renewable NYC was designed by staff at CUE and is taught by Program Manager of
Urban Education Chiara DiPalma (pictured above), who gave the National Grid employees their own session of the program, which is divided into four sections: water, food, energy and waste.

DiPalma began by explaining that the earth has “360 million trillion gallons of water — that’s 360 with six sets of zeroes after it.” She showed the group a tall beaker filled with blue liquid, representing all the water on the planet. As she poured most of the blue liquid into another beaker, DiPalma explained that 97.2 percent of water on our planet is in the oceans.

She then divided the remaining water into four other sections, showing how little usable water we have — less than one percent of the earth’s total water. “It’s pretty important that we
conserve it and use it the best that we can,” DiPalma said.

The group was given a water footprint worksheet, where they answered questions like: “How long do you let the water heat up before you get in the shower?” and “If you see that there is a leaky sink in your house, what do you do?” After calculations, most members of the group discovered that they use about 60 to 200 gallons of water a day.

Just as the students in DiPalma’s classes would, the National Grid employees played the “drain or sustain game.” Using a bag of beans to represent a reservoir, those beans are added to or subtracted from a plastic cup, or “communal well,” depending on how good or bad their character’s water-use habits were, chosen by spinning an arrow on a spin board.

“The idea is to get the kids really thinking about personal habits and how they might affect water usage,” explained DiPalma, adding that she highlights the difference between use and waste of water.

Using an apple to represent the earth, DiPalma demonstrated how little land we have that is suitable for growing food, holding up a tiny sliver of the apple. “It’s depleting at kind of an alarming rate,” she noted.

“Brooklyn is a good example: one of the best areas in the United States for food production, but we covered it all up,” DiPalma said.

Next the group calculated their food footprint. Some of the questions they answered were: “Do you try to eat food that is in season?” and “Do you buy fruit and vegetables that were grown locally in New York state?”

A couple members of the group scored very high, which means they use an average of 24-40 acres of land to support their eating habits. To sustain this lifestyle, we would need 3-4 more planets.

The group enjoyed a food-related game of “Go Fish,” where suits were replaced with meals and all the cards had food items on them. The object of the game wasn’t to collect as many cards as you could, but to collect cards with the lowest travel distance, such as carrots from a community garden or a hamburger from New Jersey.

DiPalma described additional games her students play along the other two themes of the course: energy and waste. For energy, they “talk about the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases and students calculate their carbon footprint,” she said. She then conducts a game similar to ‘The Price is Right,’ where students try to guess which item emits the most carbon in a given time period. Answers to this are surprising.

For example, using a toaster for 10 minutes every day of the week would emit eight pounds of carbon, but using an oven for the same amount of time would emit only one and a half pounds of carbon.

When talking about waste, DiPalma emphasizes recycling, playing a game where “each student imagines they are a plastic bottle.” They visit different stations around the classroom — such as person, street, recycle bin, ocean and landfill — where they play out the life of a plastic water bottle.

“The idea is you want to prolong your life as long as possible as a plastic bottle,” she explained.
When taking their own version of Renewable NYC the National Grid employees learned things that even they didn’t know, especially about their food footprint. DiPalma’s “students” for the day had nothing but praise for the workshop saying, “this is very well done.”

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1 comment:

Jake said...

I like this, I like how the ideas of living green are being integrated into our education at such an early age, so that when those kids grow up, they will in fact live a life that is more green than most people. I hope that in the future, 'green' will become part of the national educational curriculum, so that every kid is taught these important principles about living green.