Kits for kids promote environmental education in New Jersey

Concerned over the lack of environmental education within their local schools , members of a citizen's action group have designed educational kits to teach children the connection between pollution and its effects on the environment.

In 1971 the educational arm of the Committee for a Better Environment (CBE), a gathering of concerned citizens that included engineers, physicists, and teachers, made a commitment to introduce and encourage environmental education in schools in central New Jersey.

The committee's initial research revealed that elementary school teachers had a lot of interest in exploring the environmet with which to work. It appeared to W. John Tomlinson, a CBE co-founder and former chariman. What evolved was an innovativeeducation program of six kits for pupils in kindergarten through grade three.

To reach the younger children, the committee focused on basic relationships between the environment and pollution. ''If you change one thing, you are going to change other things in ways you wouldn't have wanted to,'' Dr. Tomlinson says.

For primary students to understand the importance of our survival they must see the importance of not polluting our land, air, and water, he says. To illustrate this point, the committee mad blocks designed with symbols for people , farms, land air, kites, birds, and water. With these the youngsters can build an evnironmental pyramid.

The students learn to connect the removal of a block, which will cause the pyramid to topple, to the elimination through pollution of an important component in our environment, which will have a negative effect on us, Dr. Tomlinson said.

To study such diverse concept as erosion, soil enrichment, and renewable resources, students plant ''garbage gardens.'' Pupils learn that materials like egg shells and fruit rinds are part of the ecological recycling process for soil enrichment, which allows new plants to grow. Also planted in the garden are such nonrenewable materials as plastic bags, which the pupils discover cannot be broken down and used again, Dr. Tomlinson explains.

The kits include supplemental material for these experiments: books, records, and posters, as well as a variety of materials for students to play with, listen to, construct, sing along with, and discuss.

Four years after the CBE designed the primary kits, the group decided to come up with a more sophisticated kit to emphasize man's role in the connection between pollution and its effects on the environment. To date the CBE has only one kit for students in grades four to eight.

For the older students, the committee designed exercises based on role playing, simulation games in which students representing the business community and environmentalists must present testimony before a mock senate committee also played by students, In this way students learn how to see all sides of an issue, in particular what role the government plays in environmental protection, Dr. Tomlinson says.

''Students come to realize that hard choices are often involved in balancing the demands of an industrial society and the protection of the environment,'' Dr. Tomlinson says.

A physicist who was instrumental in designing the educational tools, Dr. Tomlinson says the kits are not solely science-oriented.

Both the primary- and middle-grade kits demand that students exercise reading and math skills to be able to participate in the experiments and discussions. An experiment exploring how a river become polluted and what, if anything, can be done to purify it requires the older students to do some intensive date gathering based on percentages, analysis, research, and written summary statements, he said. In addition, public-speaking skills are developed as students learn how to present testimony during the simulated hearing.

While the committee raised private, corporate, and government funds to build and promote the kits, anyone can assemble a kit from the teacher's manual for about $200, Dr. Tomlinson said, adding that the manuals are available for $5 from Committee for a Better Environment, PO Box 209, Holmdel, N.J. 07733.

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