Liberty Students Put Research into Action

Real World Learning: Liberty Students Put Research into Action
Posted on 04/19/2019
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collage of Liberty students with passion projectsWhen given the creative freedom to tailor a recent research project to their passions and interests, eighth-graders in Andree Philpot’s language arts class at Liberty Junior School ended up creating an impact that reached far beyond their school’s walls.

“My goal for this project was to empower my students to know that they have the ability to make a difference in this world, and to give them the opportunity to do so,” said Philpot, who was encouraged by academic coach Amy Alexander to pursue the project based learning activity.

While students were limited to zooming in on one environmental issue, making a claim and then taking action to help resolve it in some way, the rest was up to them.

“I knew that I liked the project because it gave them so much choice,” Philpot said. “But I didn’t realize just how much that element of choice would impact their results, not to mention their pure excitement for the project.”

Philpot estimated that her students’ projects - completed individually or in pairs - collectively reached over 1,000 people with calls to action on everything from endangered species, recycling and waste to pollution, climate change and urban sprawl. Their results are even more impressive:

  • At least 80 pounds of plastic kept from landfills, oceans and waterways;
  • Over 500 pieces of paper saved and 20 pounds recycled;
  • 50,000-plus straws and plastic bags saved;
  • Over 50 pounds of fabric and textile waste kept from clogging landfills;
  • Over 100 plastic water bottles not used;
  • And so much more that Philpot and her students couldn’t calculate.

Among the vehicles her students used for building awareness: websites, blogs, podcasts, infographics, board games, social media, brochures, a YouTube channel, documentaries and more.

“I created an actual website. I’ve never done that before,” said Graham Allen, who chose to tap into his love for animals and educate people about how a lower carbon footprint can positively impact polar bears’ lifespan.

Another pair of students, Katie Loftus and Megan Haitsch, took the initiative to partner with an organization called 4Ocean, which makes and sells bracelets made entirely out of plastic pulled from the ocean. In addition to a blog that they promoted via social media, the pair dedicated 20 donated bracelets (valued at $400) to incentivizing their classmates to sign a pledge to refrain from using disposable plastics like water bottles and utensils.

Loftus and Hiatsch credits part of the success of their project to easy access to technology through the school’s recent rollout of Chromebooks for all students. From their research to their blog and other promotional items they created, they used their devices every step of the way, noting that the alternative would have been posterboard.

Tia Cicchetti, who takes a special interest in fashion, was upset to learn that rapidly changing fashion trends mean unused clothes in our landfills. She partnered with a recent “Project Runway” participant to recycle fabric scraps into scrunchies. Her product drove a full-blown awareness campaign.

As a way to protest against the use of nuclear energy and fossil fuels, Wyatt Airgood engineered his own wind turbine to power a light bulb. “I wanted to show that if an 11-year-old can make something like this out of stuff from my own house, then anyone can do it.”

“I hope this project helped them to see that language arts is so much more than reading books and then writing about them,” Philpot said. And based on Hiatsch’s assessment, it appears she got the message. “It opened my eyes to what’s going on in our world. Without this project, I wouldn’t have cared about where the plastic I use ends up.”

Pictured: 

A project-based learning exercise in Andree Philpot's language arts class at Liberty Junior School empowered students like (clockwise from top left) Tia Cicchetti, Graham Allen, Katie Loftus, Megan Hiatsch and Wyatt Airgood to turn their research about an environmental issue into action.