Laura Myers believes you don’t need to be a geography or social studies teacher to explore geographical concepts such as climate change or sustainability in the classroom. Myers teaches Grades 9 to 12 math and French immersion at Hampton High School in Hampton, N.B., and makes a point of incorporating these issues in her classes as well as in the extracurricular initiatives she helps run. Hampton High School became a UNESCO school in 2018 and Myers is responsible for helping to integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Global Competencies at her school.
On how her class got started on their first big initiative
Four years ago, our whole school saw the movie Before the Flood, which was about how the actor Leonardo DiCaprio travelled all over the world and saw firsthand the effects of climate change. It was a very powerful movie and we came back to the class after watching the movie and just sat there. I wrote on the board, “Now what?” I didn’t feel like we could just start talking about quadratics after we saw that. The students decided they wanted to do something tangible, like build a greenhouse, so I said, “Okay, if you want to build a greenhouse, you’ll have to find some money.”
Problem-solving is a big part of any math course, so even though it wasn’t directly related to curriculum, I decided we would spend every Friday working on building this greenhouse. A girl in the class applied for and won a $1,000 from Nature Canada, and we won $250 for the PSA we submitted to the video challenge in the Classroom Energy Diet Challenge. Finally, we went out into the community and we ended up raising enough money to build a greenhouse.
On the impact of the greenhouse for students and the community
We’re now in the process of applying for money so that we can heat the greenhouse. The long-term goal is that we would like to be able to grow food year-round. At the end of the year we have a plant sale and the goal is to make enough money to make the greenhouse sustainable. The hard thing about having a school garden is what to do in the summertime because no one is here. We have a partnership with the Hampton Community Garden and any plants we don’t sell we transplant into the Hampton Food Basket plot. The food from there is given to Food Basket clients, even into the fall.
The original plan was 100 per cent student driven. We now have a Climate Action team and a small group actually working in the greenhouse. The kids that work there love it. The construction itself was a huge project—some of them had never hammered a nail before. Some kids were really interested in the construction, others in the growing. We had a climate panel where we invited politicians to come and answer kids’ questions and the Climate Action Team came up with who they wanted to invite to the panel and what questions they wanted to ask. We also did a climate march and they decided who was going to say what. It doesn’t work unless you have a strong group of students leading the charge.
On integrating environmental issues in the classroom
In Grade 9 math last year, my students were working on surface area. Normally they would build a 3D model and calculate the surface area, but last year I challenged them to design something that can help the environment. They came up with the idea of building a compost bin. It had to have a sloping roof so that the snow could come off, it had to fit through a door, and we had to use recycled materials to make it. They designed it, voted on the best design, built it, and now we’re using it in the greenhouse to collect leaves.
In Grade 12, we talk about exponential functions and so I use graphs about temperature and rainfall. Most of the things that are happening with the climate right now can be modeled with an exponential function. Anytime I hear something going on in the news that’s numbers-related, I bring it into the classroom to show how math can be used to solve these problems and how we can use our analytical skills to understand what’s going on in the world.
On the importance of having students contemplate real-world problems
Everything that we do, we have to ask ourselves, is it helping the world? You can’t learn about climate change and what’s happening in the world without wanting to do something about it. Either we can sit back and complain and be scared or we can take action. I feel that taking action is our only choice. My own personal philosophy is that it’s all hands on deck. What we're doing, is it leading to achieving those Sustainable Development Goals? Are we doing good for the world? You start with what you can do in your own town and just take these big issues and make them real on a smaller scale. It has to mean something to them on a personal level first.