The new learning environment for Grade 5 students at Minto Clifford Public School is all about – well – the environment.
A new Environmental Learning Centre, one of three at Upper Grand District School Board schools, opened at the Harriston area school this fall.
Several years in the construction, the classroom, which is separate from the main school building, was built with an impressive array of environmentally-friendly features. A corn-pellet stove warms the building, along with Solar-to-Air heating units located on the southern wall. Concrete floors and walls offer additional heat storage capability and a window-laden south-facing wall maximizes the amount of sun that enters the building for light and warm. An air circulation system passes through a living wall which brings the outdoors inside and gives the building a bright, comfortable atmosphere.
In addition to providing an outstanding learning environment, the building is extremely functional, cost-efficient and “green.” The conservation features reduce the cost of heating and cooling, and the concrete floors can be kept clean by sweeping, without the cleaning agents required for tile floors.
While the Environmental Learning Centres opened at J. D. Hogarth Elementary School in Fergus and Island Lake Elementary School in Orangeville all have some different design features, the goals are the same – to teach environmental stewardship in the classroom and have it spill over to the students’ homes and their communities.
It’s a unique situation in which the classroom can actually become part of the curriculum.
“They study energy conservation in Grade 5, so there’s a lot of real-life applications,” notes Tim Dickieson, who teaches some of the groups assigned to the learning centre. The centre is also used by Grade 6 students and other classes make trips to the room for specific lessons.
“The Grade Threes for example are studying the plant cycle, so it benefits other classes as well,” he points out.
Grade 5 students at Minto Clifford also participate in the Earth Keepers program, which connects to the Community Environmental Leadership (CELP) program at Norwell District Secondary School. Combined with the awareness created by being in the environmental classroom, the experience makes Grade 5 especially important when it comes to educating a generation which will need to be proactive about environmental issues.
Dickieson notes those elements work well with today’s education approach of challenging students to develop opinions and not just learn by rote.
“I think the classroom helps with that. It’s just a different way to think about learning and I believe it helps bring the lessons to life for the kids.”