UNION COUNTY, NJ — Fifth-grade gifted and talented students from Rahway, Roselle, Kenilworth and Berkeley Heights participated in an environmental convocation called, “Kids Saving Earth Today for a Better Earth Tomorrow,” on Wednesday, March 23. The goal of the event was to promote environmental awareness in the surrounding community by setting positive examples and providing fun activities that demonstrate environmentally friendly actions. The students gained a deeper understanding of environmental issues affecting the community. The students also had a chance to make new friends from other towns; It was a networking experience for both the instructors and students.
The main activity was a mock trial that involved the Lorax, the main character in Dr. Seuss’s book about the dangers corporate greed poses to the environment. Dr. Seuss uses personification to give life to the environment, as the Lorax, and industry, as the Once-ler. After watching the video, students participated in a mock trial to determine the verdict of the Once-ler. They debated as to whether the Once-ler was guilty of ignoring the common good and polluting the environment.
Amir Robinson, of Rahway, was assigned the role of the Lorax. “It was a lot of fun and a great experience,” Amir said. “The Once-ler shouldn’t have been polluting the land and chopping down all the trees. Everything was polluted and dying. The Lorax won the trial because everyone was on his side.”
Amir was anxiously anticipating the other activities for the day. “My teacher is so nice and plans great activities for us. We take a lot of trips. We get to learn and have fun at the same time.”
Students also discussed how to fix the mess the Once-ler made in the land of the truffula trees. They thought about possible laws that could be passed or agencies that could be responsible for overseeing the environment. Students were assigned roles in the hearing and worked cooperatively to prepare a statement of the problem from the character’s perspective. One of the student groups took the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, and prepared questions for each group of students to answer. Each group selected one leader to conduct the hearing. Follow-up activities included having students find articles in newspapers, magazines and the internet about preserving and cleaning the environment.
Another activity called, “Clean It Up,” told the story of a fictional town called So What, where a few careless townspeople contribute to the problem of polluting Lake Benjamin. Students were provided with two pans, a coffee filter, paper towels, a strainer, cotton balls and plastic cups. They had to figure out how to clean the lake using the materials provided.
“After completing this activity, I want to make sure all the water I drink is purified,’ said Madeline Christopher, of Rahway.
The importance of recycling was emphasized to students as they participated in an activity called “Invention Convention.” It asked them to give new life to an old product that had already served its original purpose. They divided into groups of three to market their new product to the class.”
“My favorite activity of the day was the ‘Invention Convention,’ because it required creativity,” said Madeline. “It showed the importance of recycling, and it was cool to make things that can be used for new purposes.”
In an activity called “Unplug Me,” students learned about energy vampires, or appliances that use electricity even when they aren’t in use. Students were taught about surge protectors that can easily be turned off to cut the flow of energy. They were asked to make a list of all the appliances in the room that are energy vampires. They wrote messages on index cards as reminders to turn off or unplug appliances when they aren’t in use. Pictures or symbols were also drawn on the cards as decorations. After the cards were complete, they planned to hang them at school or at home near the energy vampires to remind them to “unplug it.”
“These convocations are more than just about learning,” said Gifted and Talented Association Co-President Maryellen Moffitt. “It gives students and instructors an opportunity to network. It’s so important for children to socialize in today’s world of technology”
The convocations require students to solve problems that require higher-order thinking skills. A full day of higher order thinking gives students a chance to really challenge themselves. Students are encouraged to return to their districts to share the knowledge they learned.
“The number of gifted and talented teachers in each district is so small it’s crucial for us to come together,” said Maryellen. “The convocations are networking opportunities for the brightest students to move beyond the world of technology.”
The Gifted and Talented Association consists of all the gifted and talented teachers and coordinators in Union County. They meet periodically to discuss lesson plans, field trips and new research. The convocations, such as the one they had today, have won Best Practice of New Jersey awards from the New Jersey Department of Education. They usually have about 10 convocations per year for grade levels two through eight.
Lisa Lesiak is the president of The Union County Gifted and Talented Association. It was established in 1988 to provide opportunities for teachers and coordinators to participate in professional development and create effective learning experiences for the students. Today there are 13 towns involved with the association. They include Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Kenilworth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains/Fanwood, Springfield and Westfield.