Teaching “My Green School” in a First Grade Classroom
An Interview with Alycia Prekaski
Alycia Prekaski is an elementary school teacher in CA. Being a teacher for over a decade, Alycia is always on the lookout for ways to help her students turn their concern for the Earth into concrete action. She found that the Green Guardians environmental literacy program did just that.
The lesson series “My Green School” is not only aligned to core curriculum standards including CCSS and NGSS, but also structured in such a way that Alycia could easily incorporate it into her existing science curriculum. It also offers a project option detailing specific ways young children can make a difference in their own schools.
This post spotlights Alycia, who will tell you about her experience teaching first graders to help raise awareness and work toward achieving zero waste.
Tell us about your experience teaching Green Guardians’ lesson series, My Green School
“My Green School” was an eye-opener. It was a very, very positive experience,” Alycia said. Her students loved taking a walk through their school to survey how they were managing resources like paper and energy. “They loved seeing what they we were doing really well and what they could do better.” The story related by cartoon animal characters on a mission to turn their school green gave children a model for articulating the things they noticed in their own building.
“Going to the kitchen was a huge thing for them,” Alycia recalls. “Because of Covid, we were not allowed to use the water fountains. Children received small, individual plastic water bottles if they got school lunch. They are like three sips. The kids used them, and then they flipped them, making the bottles into a game. But seeing the kitchen and the recycling with how many bottles are in there and how many unused ones are in there—that really got to them. When they did their final presentations they focused on that, and that was just one of the lessons they learned from our walk.”
Because the Green Guardians lessons are easy to break into chunks, Alycia spread the games and activities over a day or two. For example, doing the inventory of the contents of the classroom waste basket was an engaging activity students did for 10 minutes one day, and they followed up with a discussion the next. “I was able to continue teaching my content while incorporating the GG program.”
What are some of the challenges your students faced?
“Having them get from the lesson to the practical—that was the challenge,” Alycia said, “mainly because the students are so young.” However, she was impressed that “they policed each other really well, reminding each other nicely” not to flip water bottles. “We did a presentation for the school about the water bottles, so I think that did impact them.”
The stories also made students very much aware of paper waste and electricity. “The lights monitor made sure we used natural light a lot more!” Alycia laughed.
It was clear that working on students to make practical life choices and changing their behavior was not just a challenge for young children, but for everyone!
How did you engage your students in the final Show and Tell project?
“They love sharing, and they love presenting. So I divided them up into groups, and they had to create a poster about what we should change.” Alycia said the children came up with great ideas, but the unanimous choice was what to do about those little plastic water bottles. “They said serve juice boxes instead; they said use refillable water bottles. And so they put those solutions in the poster.” Along with helping them articulate content, Alycia taught her students simple design principles to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively.
“They got up there and practiced and wrote little scripts, and they made these presentations. And then I recorded it on the iPad and sent them to all the teachers. I said my kids would love to share their work with their students.” Most teachers did show the presentations to their classes during homeroom time.
But the awareness campaign didn’t stop there. “The seventh grade teacher really went with it,” Alycia said. “She had the seventh graders write letters to the first graders explaining what they liked about their presentation and how the presentations could be better, and my first graders were so excited about that. So in the end it made my first graders think about what they could do to make a difference in a tangible way, something they could do for the school. They felt really empowered that they could actually tell people about it and get peer response like that. It really matters to them. They became sort of the leaders, I guess.”
What’s your best advice to teachers who are concerned about integrating environmental literacy in their teaching?
“The Green Guardians program is set up so that there’s not really any prep work needed. You can read it quickly, see what you’d be teaching, know the objective—everything is there for you so it doesn’t take any more of your personal time,” Alycia said. “It was very, very easy for me to use. I also appreciated that I could take a lot of time to do it or less time. The kids were super-engaged with the story. They loved it. So we could either talk about the story for 20 minutes, but if we didn’t have time, it was okay.” Alycia noted that the lessons are flexible and can be used in many ways. “The children loved the characters.” Thus, the story can work well during circle time in the morning, not just as part of a science lesson.
What benefits do you see in advancing environmental literacy in your classroom?
“It’s amazing the impact talking about environmental literacy can have on kids,” Alycia said. “Sometimes you think you need to do big grandiose things. But Green Guardians lessons were very engaging to the kids and impactful too, so it was not extra work. If anything, teaching subjects like environmental literacy is why we are teachers, to make the world a better place.”
Click on the video below to check out the full interview with Alycia.