Educator Spotlight: Empowering Environmental Engineers and Artists

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Tina Genay, this week’s Educator of the Week, empowered her students to become environmental engineers and artists who are tackling the issue of plastic in the ocean. Tina is a school librarian at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary in Winchester, Virginia.

tina genay
Photo by Ann Wasko

What’s it like to be an elementary school librarian?

I love my job. I love books. I love promoting a love of reading, and I love incorporating STREAM.

What is STREAM, and did you coin that?

I think I did! I hope I did! STEM-focused teaching (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has become very popular and many people add in an “A” for the arts. On top of that, I add in an “R” for reading, which represents incorporating literature into a lesson. I also think of the “M” as including mapping. It’s always easy and relevant to incorporate mapping into any lesson, and STREAM is a way to focus on making my lessons interdisciplinary.

For your Nat Geo Educator Certification, you created a project about reducing the amount of plastic found in the ocean. Tell us about it.

We began with National Geographic Education’s Healthy Beaches activity, and students compared and contrasted pictures of beaches, discussed their experiences with beaches, and began brainstorming human impact. Many students in the class had never visited a beach before, so they had trouble making a personal connection to the beach. To address that, I introduced the children’s literature book, Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert, which has illustrations made from littered objects. This helped students begin to make sense of the dangers of littering.

Tina used literature to help students make a personal connection to ocean creatures. Photo by Tina Genay

Next, we participated in a National Geographic Explorer Classroom Hangout with biologist Gemina Garland-Lewis, who discussed ocean plastics. Students used LEGOs or other materials to creatively design a device that could get plastics out of the ocean.

Tina’s students used LEGOs to creatively design a device that could get plastics out of the ocean. Photo by Tina Genay

Finally, we read One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon, which provided a good example of reusing plastics. This inspired students to do a large reuse activity by creating art out of plastic milk jugs. (The iEARN forum, Don’t Waste – Create, helped them brainstorm ideas.)

Teachers: Download the full lesson plan here.

Tina’s students created snowman decorations as a way to reuse milk jugs. Photo by Tina Genay

Have you continued to see an impact from this project?

The engineering aspect continues to extend. The students really feel they’re going to make a difference in the world. Even though they were just using LEGOs to think about how to get the plastics out of the ocean, it was really empowering. They’re not afraid now of making a design and going back to the drawing board to make the design better.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

blue nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

One thought on “Educator Spotlight: Empowering Environmental Engineers and Artists

  1. Great story on Tina Genay! There are so many educators who are engaging their students in online collaborative project-based learning through iEARN across the country and around the world. I look forward to meeting Tina at the iEARN international Teachers Conference July 8-14 in Winchester, VA!

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