Earth Pals: a TEDxElementary-esque Project

One of the greatest joys of Twitter is connecting and "meeting" other school librarians.  After connecting with Matthew Winner, the Busy Librarian, on Dot Day 2012, we decided to collaborate on an idea that had been percolating with him since summer.  I'm always up for new ideas and immediately said "sure!"

For me, it was a wonderful way to fulfill one of my professional goals for the school year of working with willing teachers and students in the elementary end of my school building.  (I'm based in the middle/high school library, grades 6-12, but supervise the elementary library program as well.)  Matthew and I talked on Twitter and then began to chat within a google document.  A plan of attack was outlined to span roughly 9 weeks and end at Christmas break.  We knew our idea would definitely need a strong classroom teacher at each of our schools who would be willing to not only collaborate with school librarians who love to try new ideas and technology but would also be willing to think outside of the box in terms of meeting state and common core standards within their classroom.  We each chose a 3rd grade colleague.  Gretchen Welk, third grade teacher at Rossville Elementary, and I had worked together in the past with sixth grade students.  I knew her love of new ideas and enthusiasm in the classroom would mesh well.

The ongoing project/collaboration that followed has been amazing!  We've been on this journey since fall and now the finish line is just around the corner.  Originally slated for a mere 9 weeks, the project has taken on a life of its own as it has evolved thanks to the keen interest and excitement of all of our students in both Indiana and Rossville. 

The idea:  to lead a group of students in an inquiry-based environmental project, collaborating with a sister classroom, and culminating in a TED-talk type presentation by the students.

Week One:

I visited Gretchen's class and introduced the idea of TED talks to them.  We looked at past winners, ideas, and talked about what in the world TED meant and what kind of ideas were worth spreading.  We talked about how even as third graders, they could make a difference not only in their classroom but in the school, community, and ultimately the world.  We talked about little changes versus big changes...easy changes versus difficult changes...environmental problems...and came up with the idea of recycling.  Mrs. Welk's class decided that recycling paper in their classroom would be a great way to begin making a difference.  It only required an empty box and a reminder poster in the classroom to recycle paper and not throw it in the trashcan.  We also brainstormed how to measure the paper collected each week.

Interesting side note:  my middle school principal agreed to allow me to close my library weekly for one hour to spend time with Mrs. Welk's class in the elementary building.  Thanks Mr. McCracken!  I made this sign to let the middle and high school teachers and students know where I could be found.

Week Two:

We measured the paper collected in Mrs. Welk's recycling box.  Students tested their measuring ideas of using a ruler for height as well as weighing the paper.  We also brainstormed good ways to share information within the school and community about the recycling project.  The amount of paper was recorded in our data sheet.

Week Three:
Mrs. Welk brought her class to my library to skype with Mr. Winner and Mr. Yoo's class.  The eagerness of the students to meet and share with each other about their ideas of energy conservation and recycling was invigorating.  We all knew that we needed to channel this excitement for ultimate success in our project.  Paper was once again measured in Mrs. Welk's class and data recorded.

Weeks Four and Five:
Students decided the most efficient weigh to measure the paper collected was to weigh it. (Measuring with a ruler did not seem to be an accurate display or way to tell others about was was collected.)  Another skype session with Mr. Yoo and Mr. Winner's class to share updates on our project and connect.  Mrs. Welk's class also begin brainstorming about how to divide responsibilities within the class between students after we collected data for at least one month (five weeks).  

Weeks Six and Seven:
We added a new element of connecting our classrooms and students together by creating an Edmodo group.  Students posted questions to Mr. Winner and Mr. Yoo's students and responded to questions from them as well.  Paper was weighed and amount recorded in the data sheet.

Week Eight+
The elementary computer lab was utilized for research and data consolidation.  Students were divided into three different groups:  fact finders, data reporters, and predictors.  Fact finders searched for and typed facts about paper recycling.  Data reporters and predictors created graphs about the amount of paper collected over eight weeks and the effects this could have in other elementary classrooms or even building wide using NCES's Create-a-Graph

Students used calculators to double check their math and estimate the amount of paper that could be collected over time if each classroom recycled the same amount they had been able to save over eight weeks. 

Our last focus has been to bring  all of our data, graphs, and facts together into a dynamic presentation to share with Mr. Winner and Mr. Yoo's class, the third grade classes at our school, and school staff.  The students have had many great ideas and lots of fun putting together their parts of the presentation within their three groups.  We're using Prezi to share our charts, pictures, and progress during the project.  Students have also each written their note card of what to say during the presentation.  Students have rehearsed within their groups and in front of the other two groups for constructive feedback as to how to improve their part of the presentation.  The groups are ready to present very soon via Skype to our sister classroom in Maryland.  We're looking forward to connecting, sharing, and spreading our idea of change to the world!

Want to hear even more?  Read specific details about Matthew's project with his students here on his blog, The Busy Librarian.


  1. Wow! Sherry, what you've done with Gretchen is so amazing! The notes we've exchanged via Skype no where near captured what incredible things you two were accomplishing with your 3rd graders. So glad we teamed up. So thankful to be part of something so meaningful to these kids (and to me)! I know it's something we won't soon forget.

    Thanks for being such a very incredible collaborative partner!

    - Matthew


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