Have you spotted any of the haiku traffic signs that have been placed around the city’s five boroughs? The next time you visit the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, check out the sign on our corner – Brooklyn Ave and St. Marks. The New York City Department of Transportation collaborated with artist John Morse in this creative project to get people to think twice about their fragile skin and bones before making any rash moves on our busy city streets.
This project ties together social and environmental aspects of sustainability. One of the biggest disincentives to commuting via bike is the risk of injury. Swerving around parked cars, avoiding car doors, and riding inches from speeding vehicles are all part of the daily life of a bike commuter, but biking in the city also leads to cleaner air and healthier urbanites. These cautionary words and images aim to lower the safety risks by reminding pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to wake up and slow down. Plus, they add some poetry to our street corners and art can be just as important as clean air in creating a vibrant, sustainable community.
Haiku is a great introductory form of poetry for first-time poets. Have kids clap out the syllables of these signs and see if they can figure out the haiku form for themselves. Challenge them to write their own “green street” haiku. What do they want to see on the city streets and can they express it in 17 syllables? We’d love to hear the haikus they come up with!
Getting students to take note of smog, soot, and visible pollution in their neighborhood can be an eye opener, but it’s also important for students to understand that not all pollution is visible and that we can’t see or smell some of the most harmful pollutants. For instance, carbon dioxide didn’t even qualify as a pollutant until scientists proved that its role in the greenhouse effect helped contribute to global warming.
If you want an interactive fun way for your kids to learn about the major air pollutants affecting our planet and our health, have them perform a play with a very unique cast of characters. “The Awful Eight” is an air pollution play developed by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Common pollutants are brought to life by students and given personality traits based on their harmful effects. These eight pollutants are picketing against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act. Our now familiar gang of “Particulates” chants “Dust, soot and grime, pollution’s not a crime! Soot, grime and dust, the E.P.A.’s unjust!” while sly Carbon Dioxide brags about sneaking into the air when cars burn fuel inefficiently.
After covering the awful environmental and health costs of each pollutant, Carbon Dioxide points towards the audience with a daring claim. It’s not CO2’s fault the earth is warming: “The reason you’re in such a mess is because you use so much fuel and cut down so many trees!” Harry Wheezer agrees and turns to the audience for ideas on how to fight air pollution.
Connie Lung ends with this: “The bottom line? These air pollutants are a pretty tough bunch– but people help create them, and people can reduce the amounts that are in our atmosphere. Thank you and good night.”
We’ve talked about some activities and curriculum to introduce transportation into your classroom. Here are three books that would go great with a class subway ride!
Subway by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz is a rhyming and repetition book for Early Childhood. The book uses bright illustrations to follow a little girl and her Mom on their journey through the subway. Each page covers one part of the bustling sensory experience that is an MTA ride.
Subway Sparrow by Leyla Torres tell a simple lovely story of an English-speaking girl, a Spanish-speaking man, and a Polish speaking woman working together to free a Sparrow who is trapped inside a subway car…great for English-language learners!
Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach is sort of a modern Thomas the Tank Engine tale. The book follows a subway car named Jesse who loves her job very much, but her path takes a surprise turn when after 50 years of subway service she gets repurposed for an excited new use…to serve as artificial reef to a myriad sea animals!
Read more about the booming success of this true to life subway reef project. It seems that the only problem Jesse has is that she doesn’t have enough friends to join her as a reef!
You probably can’t take your class for a visit to the subway reefs but you can visit another place that has been repurposed from its train-lined past.
Thinking about traffic and transportation may have piqued your students’ interest in air pollution. Smog is every city kid’s constant companion.
Why not take the class on an air pollution walk around the neighborhood? They can see soot building up on windowsills and awnings and smell the black clouds behind the bus.
Back in the classroom, ask if any of the students suffer from asthma. Air quality and asthma rates in schools are important environmental justice issues in our city. Check out this NYTimes article covering a five year air quality study New York University researchers conducted in the South Bronx where 17% of school aged children have asthma. The study investigated how local air quality relates to factors such as traffic and the number of waste-transfer stations within a close radius. Researchers took air quality readings at ground level from eight different sites and also had students help out by wheeling around special air quality book bags and keeping diaries of their asthma symptoms.
“The study found a strong correlation between asthma hospitalization rates, poverty, the percentage of Hispanic residents and the number of industrial facilities in the Bronx, with Hunts Point having by far the highest number and density of industrial facilities.”- Bill Egbert, New York Daily News.
For an easy test of the air quality around your school, try hanging a paper coffee filter coated in Vaseline outside your school, and hang one inside a Ziploc bag as a control. Secure the coffee filters so they can’t blow around, and make weekly observations as a class. In a few weeks, you should start to see discoloration and buildup of particulates from the air.
This past week, we’ve been talking about ways to get your students thinking about how transportation affects their immediate environment. An excellent way to begin widening the application of their emerging ideas on transportation from your school’s neighborhood to the city-at-large would be a visit to the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn.
The Transit Museum offers school programs for Pre-K through 12th grades and includes a hands-on activity and tour of the museum. Whether or not you sign up for a tour that focuses on environmental science, the Transit Museum offers ample opportunity to begin discussing the wide scope environmental impacts of different forms of transportation. If you’ve led a lesson on cars idling in front of your school, you can now discuss the ways automobile pollution impacts our entire city. How would New York change if more people rode the subway, took buses, or carpooled?
The Transit Museum collaborated with Streets Education to design Go Green Curriculum focused toward 4th and 5th graders. This program is comprised of five sustainability-minded transportation lessons, the second of which is a visit to the museum.
Be sure to visit the museum’s online Teacher Scrapbook where you can share the exciting transportation themed lessons and activities you’ve been teaching in class.
The first step to safer, greener streets may be to observe what’s there and re-imagine what could be, but once kids can picture their fresh new world, why not take your curricula one step further and teach kids how to make change happen? Learning how the public can advocate for traffic lights, stop signs, and speed bumps can be an excellent introduction to civic engagement for young ones.
One program at Streets Education taught first graders at P.S. 87 how to assess the traffic safety of their neighborhood and then go after the traffic calming measures they thought would make their surrounding environment more enjoyable. They wrote their Commissioner letters requesting a new speed bump and might have one soon!
Empowering kids to be engaged citizens is one of the biggest steps we can take in shaping the next generation of environmental stewards.
When aiming to get kid’s “wheels turning” on sustainable transportation, the best place to start may be right outside your classroom’s window. What would your neighborhood look like without cars in the street? What kind of harmful chemicals are released into the air when cars idle outside your school? Check out some creative street re-imaginings from a classroom of Kindergarteners at P.S. 87 here.
Streeteducation.org is a great resource for downloadable transportation curriculum for the classroom. Their PreK workbook includes transportation songs, coloring pages, and a Travel Pictograph activity. Students can take a drawing square home and complete a picture with their families of how they get to school. The next day, each drawing can be added to a classroom Travel Pictograph depicting the most common mode of travel! Are their greener ways to get to school?
Public transportation is part of sustainable Brooklyn!
You’re helping the Earth every time you use your MetroCard. Public transit uses only half the fuel a car uses per mile. For every bus, 30 to 40 fewer cars are on the road. A packed train car carries as many people as about 100 cars!
Thanks to the MTA and New Yorkers use of public transportation, our city is one of the greenest in the world. You can use buses and subways to take you all over New York City without using a car.
Public transportation is an example of Travel Green.
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is part of sustainable Brooklyn!
Methane is a gas found in rotting food and farts! It sounds (and smells) gross, but methane can also be used for fuel to create energy. This treatment plant collects methane and turns it into fuel. It is also the only wastewater treatment plant in the city open to the public. Learn more at the Visitor Center or check out the nature walk on site.
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is located at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Humboldt Street. Take the G toGreenpoint Avenue.
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is an example of Watch Waste.
East New York Farms is part of sustainable Brooklyn!
Local farms are good for the environment and for us. Shipping food locally uses less energy.
Like many local farms, East New York Farms uses Earth-friendly growing practices. They avoid using chemicals, which keeps both the earth and your food clean, healthy and yummy.
East New York Farms is located on Schenck Avenue between New Lots Avenue and Livonia Avenue. You can take the 3 to Van Siclen Avenue. For more information about public activities there, checkout their website.