Recent studies have shown that huge amounts of plastics are floating in the world’s oceans, causing harm to marine wildlife and eventually to us humans. It is very important that we take this issue seriously and to coordinate actions to promote a better use and disposal of this material.
In Venezuela there is an environmental crisis with regards to waste management. The government has done very little to solve this issue and a large part of the population is not even aware of the perils of plastics pollution. Most of Venezuela is trashed, from city streets, neighborhoods, shantytowns, countryside, our beautiful beaches; all of it is overflowing with trash…plastic trash. How can we ever solve this problem? As a teacher I believe that is through educating people, whether through formal education (schools) o through the media (TV and Radio) that the population can first learn about this form of pollution and then learn how by applying the 3R’s to plastics, everyone can do their part to protect our world.
I was invited to teach 12 workshops with teachers from 21 elementary schools in Margarita a beautiful island of the coast of Venezuela, surrounded by the Caribbean sea, with a population of approximately 600, 000 people. For me it seamed like a grand opportunity to spread this valuable information. Taking from both my background in education and the work I have been doing for the past 6 years experimenting with reusing plastics I designed the workshop “ Plastic a learning resource; Reusing plastics in the classroom”.
I would like to share in this post my thought and some of the amazing pictures from the work done by the teachers who attended this workshop. For the Venezuelan family these are very tough times, the Venezuelan bolivar plummets every day, it is very hard to access basic goods because of shortages. Prices escalate every week and the minimum wage, which a large part of the population lives on, is scarcely 20$ a month. Taking all these factors into consideration my proposal was to show teachers how they and the families of their students can have access to many materials from home, which can be reused not only saving money but eliminating the need to buy virgin materials which is better for the environment.
I wasn’t surprised when most of the teachers that participated expressed how little they knew about the effects of plastics in the environment. The first part of the workshop aimed to show the problem. It is important for these educators to know that trash is not simply an esthetic problem, that it’s not just ugly and nasty it’s a serious form of pollution. We can’t sit around waiting for the government or others to take charge; with our individual actions we can make a difference. Like Gandhi said be the change that you want to see in the world.
The workshop is designed for teachers to discover the endless possibilities of reusing plastics as a learning resource. This was done through a game I have called the treasure hunt. With all those single use plastics so common in the daily life of their students, plastics bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, caps, etc. the teachers experimented how to use them in engaging learning activities with their students. To get into the spirit of learning as a fun experience they were instructed to make instruments, a song and a dance to promote the 3Rs.
After lots of laughs and creativity the teachers move on to painting with plastics. Using candy wrappers, food packaging and plastics bags with the collage technique. All you need is white glue and a little patience; since plastics take more time to dry than paper in some cases a cold or a hot glue gun can also be used to speed the drying process. This is a marvelous way to decorate bulletin boards, make customs, party decorations, gifts, cards, etc. It is very common for teachers to ask parents at the beginning of the school year for a long list of materials, different types of paints and papers, and even foamy! We can reduce the financial burden of families by avoiding these new materials while promoting the values of reuse.
The next step was visualizing how these food packages could be utilized to promote the acquisition of literacy skills. In Venezuela, teachers are accustomed to using newspapers and magazine so children can cut and paste while learning the alphabet, making syllables, and constructing sentences, but these materials are expensive and in this digital age scarce. The teachers discovered that by collecting and reusing the packages that cover their students food and candy wrappers, they could have access to unlimited material, with the added bonus that these resources are very significant in their students lives, a necessary element for learning.
To learn numeracy at the early stages it is a prerequisite that students manipulate concrete objects. The teachers were asked to think up games or activities where their students could use plastics to learn or improve their math skills. Who could have thought that all those bottle caps, straws and miscellaneous plastics could help children acquire the notion of numbers, adding, subtracting among others?
After the teachers observed how to use plastics in their academic activities, they were shown various techniques for reusing plastics in crafts that can boost creativity as well as concentration, eye to eye coordination, among other learning skills. Making looms from Cds, bottles or straws is a great way to keep kids busy while relaxing them. Making puppets, sculptures and murals from plastics can also be great class project that can be connected with the love for nature and all its creatures.
During the workshop the teachers also learned about making Eco bricks with their students, during the duration of the workshop they packed away their plastics. Stuffing all the wrapping that come from their snacks into bottles is a great way to teach children how to be responsible for their waste, while installing the habit of disposing of it in a secure place. The little ones can help promote the making of eco bricks within their families. I am a promoter of the Vision Ecobricks Project, which is an amazing undertaking for the whole school community. The teacher were led in a visualization to create a vision for their community, thus learning the technique so they could later lead their students in the exercise of creating a vision for their school and surroundings.
The teachers were very happy to have participated and expressed their gratitude and amazement in this innovative way to reuse plastics; they also declared their commitment to sharing the information. On my part I believe this workshop can be very powerful for the purpose of spreading the message in my beloved Venezuela and hope that it can reach many more teachers, students and families.