• Manitoba teacher on a hike near her hometown

    Louise Roberts loves the outdoors and focuses on sharing her passion for the environment with her students.

Complex topics such as energy efficiency, environmental impacts and conservation can be intimidating to approach with young students, but Louise Roberts doesn’t shy away from tackling these discussions with her Grade 1 and 2 students. Roberts teaches French Immersion homeroom in Brandon, Man., and her class takes part in the annual Classroom Energy Diet Challenge (CEDC). She spoke with Canadian Geographic to share some of her experiences and advice for other teachers.

On how the CEDC helps with teaching younger kids about their environmental impact

What attracts me to the CEDC is that they have resources such as lesson plans that I can use in my classroom to start a conversation with my students. Being able to see what other students are doing helps show my students what they can do in our classroom. We’ve done art pieces and science projects on recycling this year and it was a really good experience for them. We work on presentation skills on a topic that they can then take home and teach their families about. This year was about recycling myths — items people think are recyclable but are not, and why. 

On taking action outside the classroom

I have a lot of students who are interested in the environment and especially in animals. I have quite a few students who would love to be a scientist or a veterinarian. So I show them what their impact is and how they can help. Every year, we do a fundraiser and we always end up adopting two animals from the World Wildlife Fund. We talk about their endangered status and how important it is to adopt those animals. The rest of the money goes to a local pet rescue.

We also go on a litter walk at least once or twice near the end of the school year. And when we go on our litter walks, we talk about safety, especially around needles. If you find a needle, you just need to have that conversation with your kids and let them know of the dangers and what they should do. Some teachers I know would be afraid to go on litter walks. We’re the only class I know that does it on a regular basis.

On how students are changing their habits

We do our litter walks every year, and one of my Grade 2 students was telling the Grade 1 students about it. My students took the initiative this year, without me even talking about it, to bring in garbage bags from home and go pick up garbage around our playground. And then they came in so excited and were showing me how much garbage they had picked up. I think they did this for a whole week before they couldn’t find any more garbage. I also hear from students’ parents in passing. They’ll say, “My child never stops talking about recycling and he’s always heckling us about packing litter-less lunches.” Those kinds of conversations always make me laugh.

On nurturing students’ interests to teach them about conservation

We watch Skype in the Classroom, and I try to gear most of those video calls to the environment or conservation. They have virtual field trips and Skype a Scientist. Students really like asking the scientists if they’ve visited certain places or seen certain animals. It’s all about keeping up with their interests. We had one about sharks, and I have one student who is a big shark enthusiast. This kid lives, breathes, and has every book imaginable about sharks. My goal with that is, if throughout the video call, he can learn at least one or two new things, then I’ve done a good job. Throughout that whole chat with the scientist, I don’t think he moved, he kept his eyes glued to the screen.

On her advice to other teachers with young students

Try anything and everything. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment with them. If you had one bad idea, the kids aren’t going to suffer over it. The dynamics are different every year, and one class might be interested in something while another might not. For my class, attention span is the biggest challenge. If you find something, you really need to present it in an interesting way to grab their attention within those first couple of minutes or it’s going to drag on. For our science fair project, it was over the span of a couple of months. At the beginning, introducing it was a bit of a struggle. So I had to tweak it— I actually gathered coffee cups from all the different places I go to and I just showed them to students and asked questions, like, “Why do you think coffee cups are not recyclable?“ You pull them in that way and get their brains working a bit more, thinking about those inquiry questions by making it relatable to their lives.