This past Tuesday, May 9, 2023, fellow global scholar Lily G and I had the pleasure of teaching a class about fast fashion to Miss Bartow’s sixth-grade science class. The class began by asking the students to reflect on the factors that affect their clothing choices, then introduced the idea that climate change also should play a role in their fashion preferences. Next, we discussed with the students how clothing impacts different aspects of climate change like energy, microplastics, and water. Then we passed out samples of different types of fabrics for the students to observe and challenged them to think about how the different materials were related to climate change in their production and after use. After coming to the conclusion that no fabric is perfect, nor entirely bad for the environment, we gave the students four avenues of change: reducing consumption of clothing, reusing fabric and clothing, repairing clothes, and writing letters to fashion companies. We wanted the students to understand that though their actions do have effects on climate change, the only way to solve climate change is to address the emissions from the largest contributors by far, major clothing companies. Thus, we finished the class by teaching the students how to write letters to their favorite clothing company, asking about their efforts to create sustainable clothing and protect the environment, and giving them the option to mail the letters.
There were many reasons we chose this topic. First, ever since Lily and I took a GOA class on Climate Change and Global Inequalities, we’ve noticed a lack of education at Poly about climate change and felt the need to share our knowledge on the dire issue with the rest of the community. Thus, we co-founded and co-led our sustainability club at Poly, Climate Action Together(CAT) to focus on solving climate change in our local communities via education and activism. Next, we knew we wanted to teach a class to Miss Bartow’s sixth-grade science class because we took her class when we were in middle school and remember her devotion to and passion for the intricate issues of climate change. Moreover, despite Miss Bartow’s strong passion for climate change, I always remember feeling like we never had enough time in class to fully focus on climate change and its solutions. I remember Miss Bartow briefly referencing climate change when we talked about sea levels and tectonic plates or quickly in conversation, we discussed trash at our school, but I always wanted to know more about what she was talking about. I think I understood what she was saying, but didn’t understand the gravity of climate change or how I had anything to do with it. I never got to connect with the issue on a level that made me care deeply about it. So, it was really important to me that we made climate change the focus of our class, to emphasize the significance of the issue. Additionally, we wanted the students to know that even though climate change is a daunting, global issue, they still have the ability to create change via their everyday choices. More generally, we hoped that they would take away that they have the power to choose what matters to them. Finally, we thought that the importance of activism via advocacy was a good idea to introduce to them and that writing letters to companies was a great skill for them to develop and also one that applies to any issues they care about.
In preparation, Lily and I met with Miss Bartow weekly for five weeks leading up to the class. We began by discussing what we felt Poly’s climate change curriculum lacked and what might be most beneficial for the students to learn about. Over the five weeks, Miss Bartow helped us develop our topic of focus and subsequently helped us adjust the curriculum to fit the learning needs of her sixth-grade students. In between meetings, Lily and I would conduct our own research on teaching kids about climate change and develop the lesson plan on our own. Additionally, Lily and I sat in on one of Miss Bartow’s science classes to observe the learning level of the sixth graders and acquire tips on how to teach them. I found our experience sitting in on her class very informative, allowing us to see how to keep the students’ attention with varying activities throughout the class, yet still have a cohesive lesson plan. With Miss Bartow’s help and invaluable advice, we finalized a lesson plan that we all agreed would be a fun, engaging, and empowering way for the students to learn about climate change and got approval from Mr. Gray. Then, after practicing many times and going through the lesson plan with Lily, we taught four classes on May 9.
Before teaching the classes, I was most nervous that I wouldn’t be able to hold the attention of the sixth-graders long enough to keep them engaged for the full hour. However, I quickly realized that the students were actually really interested in the issue of climate change as they were figuring out how dire the issue is. Also, I believe the flow of our lesson plan and the mix of lecturing, discussion, and interactive activities was an extremely effective teaching style that kept the students engaged throughout the hour. Though the class ran smoothly for the most part, Lily and I had a little trouble getting the students to re-focus their attention after we assigned small group activities. For example, after the students passed around the fabric samples, it took us a while to regain their attention for the following full-class lecture. Many students were still fidgeting with the fabric samples or talking to students near them, so after the first couple of classes, we made sure to collect the fabric samples before turning to the full-class discussion. This worked well in helping the students re-focus as they all had to pass the samples to the front of the room, simultaneously adjusting their focus to the front of the room.
Overall, this experience of teaching students was completely enlightening. As a student, it was a totally new and different experience to be on the teaching end of a class. Most of all, I have acquired a new appreciation for teachers. I got to experience firsthand the time, work, and effort that goes into planning a lesson for a class, then even more exhausting the actual execution of the class. I respect teachers so much for their ability to maintain their passion for a subject, even when having to teach the same topic many classes in a row. The most rewarding part; however, was the students who came up to Lily and me after the class to tell us how much they enjoyed the class or learned from it or even for some, how they are pursuing climate change solutions on their own! Knowing that Lily and I inspired students to care about an issue like climate change is indispensable. In fact, I found this experience fulfilling in ways I never expected.