More than any previous generation, young people today are concerned about the environment. They're aware of the climate crisis, the dangers of pollution, the extinction of species and the destruction of natural wilderness areas. They're also increasingly aware of threats to the health of our food supply, water shortages and the need for sustainable agriculture. This interest in environmental issues is true even in urban areas where many young people have never visited a wilderness area or even a national park.
Beginning in 2008, the New Learning Institute launched a nationwide program, The Earth Day Challenge, which aims to harness young people's desire to protect the environment along with their enthusiasm for digital media and new communications technology. The Challenge is both a summer program and a competition in which students are given the tools and guidance they need to write, produce and exhibit digital films about environmental themes.
Film Making Camps
In summer camps across the country, NLI professionals use the Earth Day Challenge curriculum to guide young people in the making of their own environmentally themed films. The program begins with research into important issues of ecology, sustainability, climate and natural resources. Then the NLI team guides the students in the step-by-step process of conceiving, planning and executing the production of a film.
In the first year of program, students were asked to produce a film under the general theme of protecting the environment. In response, teams of young people in Los Angeles made films about air pollution. Students in Louisiana made a film about rain forest conservation, kids in Las Vegas made films about energy conservation and in the Bronx, New York, kids at a summer camp produced films about global warming.
At the end of the summer, the New Learning Institute reviewed all of the student films and chose the best, naming two as grand prize winners, one each for high school and middle school divisions. The members of the winning teams received digital-arts-ready laptop and Flip video cameras. Second place winners received video cameras and there were also several honorable mentions who received certificates of accomplishment.
Our National Parks
In 2009, taking a cue from the public television series, "The National Parks, America's Best Idea" NLI decided to make National Parks the theme for the Earth Day Challenge. In each summer camp location, young people were given the opportunity to visit a nearby national park, learn about it and create a film that encouraged greater awareness, use and appreciation of this national resource. Also in 2009, each camp participant was given the use of a Nokia smart phone to use in the making of their film.
The students made two separate trips to the park, first for a day of exploration, research and note taking. Working in groups, they learned about the historical, physical, and cultural details of the park and began planning their film. Some teams used their mobile devices to record audio notes or take still photos.
In the second week of the camp, the young filmmakers used their mobile devices to capture still images, sound and video for their projects. Back at camp, they were guided by the NLI professionals as the assembled, edited and completed their films. By the end of the second week, each team had produced a short video examining some aspect of the park and expressing their point of view.
All of the videos produced in the 2009 camps were automatically entered in the national competition. The grand prize in the middle school division was won by two students from the Rogers Elementary School, Chicago, who produced a film about animals in the Indiana Dunes National Park. The high school division prize was awarded to two students at the Algiers Technology Academy, New Orleans for their film linking the music of Louis Armstrong and Jean Lafitte National Park.
Food is Power
For 2010, NLI is planning another addition to the Earth day Challenge. Young people in the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to enroll in the Food is Power Summer Experience. Fifty students will learn firsthand about sustainable food production and consumption through visits to producers and restaurateurs, such as those at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Marketplace. Then, with the guidance of NLI staff, participants will create short-form video presentations that share their views on the theme of sustainable food with the world. These videos along with those created at other Earth Day summer camps will be entered in the 2010 competition.
The Earth Day Challenge is a successful application of New Learning Institute's project-based approach to learning. It combines core curriculum subjects with young people's interest in technology and their desire to become authors and producers of media, using basic mobile devices. It is another example of the ways in which learning can be transformed to meet the needs of young people in the 21st century.