The Portable Problem
Across the nation, there are over 350,000 portables being utilized by schools. With increase pressures on budgeting and population, this number is growing. In Washington State, school districts are mandated by law to build schools based on current population numbers rather than predicted. This results in portables being placed next to brand new schools because school population increased by the time the school was constructed.
Most portable classrooms are essentially disposable buildings constructed with toxic materials such as formaldyhyde and buit to last only a short time. Many school districts end up keeping them way past their lifespan causing students to be in old worn down classrooms. Learn more from the EPA
What We Are Doing About It
1. Build the moral, technical and financial case for the Green Portables: We have a moral responsibility to create healthy learning environments. We have the technology as proven by green portables such as the SAGE (Smart Academic Green Environments) and SEED (Sustainable Education Every Day).
2. Benchmark current conditions: We know green portables are possible, but does anyone actually use them? Here is what we found out:
A) SEED Portable exists in Washington at the Perkins School in Seattle
B) Approxamately 80 SAGE Portables have been installed across Washington
C) Edmonds School Distrct was the first district in the state to install SAGE Portables.
D) Lake Washington School was the second and made a commitment in 2012 to purchase only green portables like SAGE.
3. Broadcast what we learned: As youth we have the power to teach people about the portable problem, to advocate to our school boards to commit to purchasing green portables and to use our voice to drive action to create better learning environments. Step by step we are sharing the case for green portables to stakeholder who need to know.
4. Embed into Curriculum: This real world problem, is the perfect fodder for problem based learning in the classroom. Math, science, english, history, it can all be explored through the lense of the portable problem. Our 4th action is to embed the case and our benchmarking data into curriculum. The strategy is to find curriculum entry points to use the portable problem and solutions to teach about problem solving, data tracking, green engineering and civic engagement. See a great example of this in the next section below.
What 5th Graders at Alcott Elementary Did About It
A Case Study by Ambassador Calista Morley, TESLA STEM
I will never forget when I and a team of 4 high school student lead a green portable re-design workshop at Alcott Elementary in Redmond in the spring of 2018. Working together, we developed a curriculum with the ambitious goal catalyzing awareness of humanity’s effects on the environment when youth have the opportunity to design buildings from an early age such as fourth or fifth grade. We decided to do a test run at a local elementary school.
The students began by taking a pre-test and getting some basic background about green building and the project itself. Then they began to brainstorm and organize their ideas into their best possible design for a new green portable to replace their old, inefficient one. We focused on 5 simple aspects of green building: waste management, energy sources, energy efficiency, water systems, and building materials.
They went above and beyond on their research of green portables, souring the internet to find the best building materials and to calculate an estimated cost of their portable to compare to their current one. This wasn’t even something we asked them to do, but the students were so interested and excited that they happily learned everything they could. Equipped with knowledge, then they began to craft their green portable design onto a piece of butcher paper.
On the final day, they enthusiastically presented their new and improved portable designs. All of them were very different. The students were able to explain to us the physics of solar panels and passive solar, the science of composting toilets and the importance of natural lighting. They discovered the concept of thermal mass and creating energy from the heat of decomposition all on their own.
Afterwards we tested them again and they showed significant improvement in their understanding of each of the five aspects we tested them on. These results suggest that students learn better when what they learn is real and relevent to them.
These students learned quickly because they were excited to learn. They were empowered to create something of their own design which created more investment in their work. They also felt like what they were doing was helping to solve a real problem and therefore their work felt valued. Imagine if curriculum could be designed in a way that students always felt excited, invested and valued. What would it look like? I think it would look like what I saw with these 5th graders.
What You Can Do About It
1. Learn more about the portable problem and educate those around you.
2. Ask your school board to make a commitment to purchasing school portables.
3. Write a letter to your state legislature requesting that they change state policy to reduce over crowding in schools.