Teaching Kids About Water Issues

stream water

By Kristina Hulvershorn
Tasked with teaching water conservation to a group of kids ranging in age from 8 to 18, I enlisted the help of Aspen, one the teens who would be in the group, a few days before we would all meet. He and I wanted to strategize a way to let everyone really engage with the material, in spite of their age or background knowledge. One of our challenges was to encourage the students to make connections between water usage and food choices. Every piece of food we eat has a water footprint, and some kinds of foods require much more water than others. The data was pretty heavy and even adults glaze over when simply told the statistics.
“What if we use these bottles that are about to be recycled to symbolize a larger amount of water and we have a bottle for each food choice?” I asked him. Aspen told me that the water had to be blue for a stronger visual effect. I trusted him and we set to work measuring, dying, and labeling the bottles.

We decided that one bottle should represent 500 gallons of water, which is pretty close to the amount of water in five hot tubs. As we expected, we needed a lot more bottles to explain how much water is needed to produce chicken, pork, and beef than we did for other kinds of foods like vegetables. In fact, to fairly convey how many gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef we needed ten full bottles (to symbolize 5,214 gallons!), compared to the mere ounces to symbolize most of the vegetables. You read that correctly—ten hot tubs’ worth of water to produce one pound of beef.
When it came time to do the activity with the students, I strategically gave the hamburger to one of my wiggliest students. One by one, I asked each student to come up and find the label with the amount of water that correlated to their food. We learned that tomatoes require 23 gallons, potatoes require 24, and so on. When it was his turn to show us how much water is needed for the hamburger, I asked him to come up and suggested that he may need a friend to help. He gladly boasted, “I can handle it by myself.” As he attempted to haul 10 bottles of water back to his seat, several fell to the floor. We all laughed with him and no spills happened, but that movement, that action, burned that number (and, more importantly, the significance of that number) into all of our minds.
Four months later, when I saw him, I asked him, “How much water does it take to produce one pound of hamburger?” He smiled and told me, “Over 5,000 gallons!”
This activity is now housed as an exhibit in “be the change” and people are always drawn to these mysterious blue bottles. Finding ways to convey difficult, often depressing data and statistics in playful and hands-on ways is one way we are helping people to make the connections between their everyday actions and the impacts they have on our planet, on animals, and on other humans.
“Be the change” is the first humane education exhibit of its kind. It is housed in Peace Learning Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Photo Credit: Max Guitare / Flickr

A Day in the Life of a Humane Educator

humane educator

By Chris Parrucci
Firefighter, professional basketball player, doctor, lawyer… These are common answers children will give when asked what they want to do when they grow up. Another popular choice is veterinarian and when asked why, a child usually replies, “Because I love animals!”
Just like so many children, this is the career path my wife chose when she was five. When she reached her teen years and realized that she wasn’t comfortable around blood, those dreams of being a veterinarian vanished. My wife’s story isn’t all that uncommon. Many children grow up wanting to help animals, people, or even the planet and some grow up to become veterinarians and doctors (which is fantastic!), but few realize just how many job opportunities there are in the animal world beyond becoming a veterinarian.
One of my favorite activities we have created here at HEART addresses this very problem. Detailed in our animal focused Resource Guide, the activity asks students to choose a humane career they are interested in and research details about that profession. Students are given a list of humane careers such as animal shelter manager, humane law enforcement officer, pet photographer, animal lawyer and, of course, veterinarian. Another profession that is listed is one that I’m intimately knowledgeable of: humane educator.
To help any future students researching the occupation of humane educator and for anyone who has ever been curious about what we do on a day-to-day basis, I decided to write about a typical day working here at HEART.
Starting work at 9am I check my email to keep up to date with conversations I’m having with coworkers, teachers, parents and partnering organizations. Once the emails are answered I start on my many projects. I’ll spend a few hours creating documents for our online P-Course, a professional development class New York City Department of Education teachers can take to receive credit. All this work on the computer sounds easy but is made a lot more difficult when trying to type with a cat on your lap.
Then I’ll have a conference call with my colleagues who are working from all around the country. We collaborate on different projects like creating different humane education units. Using our various backgrounds and expertise we brainstorm ways to bring humane education alive inside the classroom and motivate students to think critically and take action against the world’s injustices.
After a quick lunch I’ll head out and travel to one of the various schools I teach at. I meet with roughly 40 third and fifth graders at an elementary school up in the Bronx. After the students learn about animal neglect and abuse (this is just one example of a topic and activity), they create PSA posters to put up around school. The posters will serve as a fun educational tool for the rest of the school community.

student animal posterI finally get home around 7:30pm from a long day of work. Though tired, I’m energized because I know that tomorrow brings new challenges and new opportunities to spread the humane education message!

Changing Your Plan…

dog and cat cuddling

At HEART we work with students of all different ages in many different settings, and we teach a wide variety of topics related to people, animals, and the planet. We create outlines, lesson plans, and gather materials for activities well in advance so that we can deliver the best programs possible. However, on occasion those well-thought-out plans have to change in a moment’s notice, so we can meet our students where they are at as learners and follow their curiosity.
Sometimes the students know a lot more about a topic than we originally anticipated and we have to revise the program so that it is more challenging. Other times, after working with a class we might realize that some techniques are just not working and others are a lot more effective. After a lesson with one class, we realized they struggled with class discussions. Once we split the students into small groups the dynamic of the class changed dramatically and the students were able to receive and process information a lot more effectively, and have a lot more fun too.
And then sometimes, the changes we make are more extreme. HEART educator, Kim Korona, recently had to toss out the vast majority of her prepared multi-week curriculum in order to best serve her students. While teaching the kids about companion animal issues, Kim discovered that the students had a lot of misinformation about the animals we share our homes with. While discussing training techniques, multiple students thought that hitting their dog or rubbing their dog’s face in his or her excrement would teach the dog how to behave. Another mentioned that when his dog misbehaved his family locked the dog in the closet. Add to this questions like, “If a cat scratches you is it okay to hurt them back?” and Kim knew that scrapping her prepared lessons and focusing more time on companion animal care would be the best plan to help her students interact with animals more humanely. The regular classroom teacher saw the same issues and agreed. These students needed guidance on this particular issue.
Athough she had to forego covering some of the content she had originally planned, Kim believed that in promoting compassion and empathy in a deep and rich way for dogs and cats, that it could expand her students’ circle of compassion for all living beings.
Kim said about the lessons, “The students were really open to discussing and considering things from a new point of view, which is part of why I thought it was important to take the time to address all these different issues in more depth. Especially because so many of the kids had dogs or cats or relatives with dogs or cats, and this was a chance for them to put what they learned immediately into action.”
As a class they explored humane training techniques, proper care, animal emotions, the meaning of cruelty and neglect, and looked into the plight of homeless dogs and cats. As each issue or question came up, Kim helped guide the students to consider how they would feel if they were a dog or cat in a given situation. For example, would they prefer to be outside in the cold at night, or inside with their family? When the kids imagined that they were the dog, the answer was simple. Inside with their family. The kids soaked up the new information, and the more they became invested in the topic, the more they took ownership over their own learning. They even asked if they could go on a field trip to a local animal adoption center. Arrangements were made and they had a fantastic experience. The kids were thrilled to share their knowledge about animal care and responsible animal guardianship with the presenter at the animal shelter, and of course to meet some of the homeless animals.
As this experience shows, as educators, it is important to be flexible and to meet our students where they are at, when possible. We must do our best to assess what they already know and what they are curious to find out, and to do our utmost to challenge them and to value them. You never know, it could be an important teachable moment, for both you and your students. For the students in Kim’s class, the experience was life-changing.
Photo Credit: jeffreyw / Flickr

Tech Tools for Humane Educators

kids computers

By Mickey Kudia
I am the least tech-savvy person in the world. However, from my experience, students love it when I incorporate technology in my lessons. Watching students get excited about an app or website, makes the extra effort of researching new tech tools all worth it.
Below is a list of a few of the tech tools I’ve used in my lessons that even the least tech-savvy person can include in their classroom.
Buycott App
This app allows its user to scan the barcode on any product and then immediately receive information about animal protection, human rights, and environmental campaigns that are either in support or against the product. For example, you can use this app to find out if a product is tested on animals or uses unfair labor practices.
I use this app in a lesson for middle school students on boycotting and being a conscious consumer. In the lessons, I have students get in small groups and compare two products, such as a cruelty-free bottle of shampoo and a shampoo that is tested on animals. After the students discuss the differences between the two products from just looking at the items, I’ll scan the barcodes and share the information from the Buycott app.
Even though I use this app for a specific lesson on boycotting, it could be used in any lesson where you wanted to provide students with a tool for using their purchasing power to help people, animals, or the environment.
However, I will warn you that some of the information on the Buycott app may not be appropriate for all ages. So play around with the app before you use it in the classroom and don’t scan anything in front of students you haven’t scanned prior to the lesson.
I’m sure everyone here has heard of blogs before (you’re reading one right now) and your students will be familiar with them too. However, most students will not have thought about how they can use blogs to help people, animals, or the environment.
Students can use blogs to educate people outside the classroom and all over the world about actions they can take to make the world a better place. I once had a group of students who wanted to teach people about helping companion animals. So with my help, the students created the “Ward Pet Power Blog”, where they posted articles about how to make toys for animals in shelters and other ways to help companion animals.
For safety reasons, I made the blog and posted all the articles. However, the students had a lot of fun writing the articles and reading the comments from other people on their blog posts.
Social Media
This a tricky one because I know some parents do not allow their children to use social media (for good reasons), and I don’t want their parents to think I’m encouraging its use. However, many students are using social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, etc.) and are excited to use it for positive reasons.
Hence, I never encourage students to make personal accounts on social media, but I’ll often share their work through HEART’s social media pages and explain that it is a way of educating people on the internet. For example, I’ll have students create posters about the importance of adopting animals from shelters and then share the posters on HEART’s Facebook. Students love seeing that their posters are being used to teach people all over the country about an issue they care about.
These are a couple of ways that I’m using technology to teach humane education. Have you used any of these tech tools or have any other suggestions for using technology to teach young people about animal protection, human rights, or environmental ethics?
If you do, please write them in the comment section. I’d love to hear them!
Photo Credit: Leonardo Augusto Matsuda / Flickr

Zoe Weil Receives 2014 HEART of Gold Award

HEART is very happy to announce that Zoe Weil is the 2014 recipient of the HEART of Gold award.
The Heart of Gold award was first introduced in 2013 to recognize people who have made an extraordinary contribution to humane education. Zoe certainly fits that profile. She is the visionary behind the comprehensive humane education movement serving as co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE created M.Ed., M.A. and graduate certificate programs in humane education, programs that many HEART staff members have graduated from.  Zoe has authored seven books on humane education, run workshops around the country, and has lectured widely on humane education.  Zoe’s newest project is the groundbreaking Solutionary School which is scheduled to begin operations in 2016 in New York City and will eventually be replicated throughout the country.
HEART of gold awardIn addition to her work with IHE, Zoe has been an important part of HEART’s development, having served on the planning committee for the development of our original ten lesson plan curriculum for grades 4-6 as well as on HEART’s board as we have grown the curriculum into over 160 age-appropriate lessons serving K-12 and expanded our teacher training and professional development.
“There is simply no one more deserving of this award than Zoe Weil.  We are so grateful to Zoe for her contribution to HEART over these years and to the overall field of humane education,” said Brad Goldberg, Chair of HEART.
“Zoe is truly a pioneer and her creative vision has had, and will continue to have, an enormous impact on HEART and education in general,” added Meena Alagappan, HEART’s executive director. “As a humane educator, Zoe personally taught more than 100,000 students to see themselves as part of the solution to our world’s most serious challenges. She is the perfect recipient for this award!”