How Students Protect the Environment Through Interdisciplinary Learning – Digital Promise

How Students Protect the Environment Through Interdisciplinary Learning

February 20, 2024 | By

The Ciena Solutions Challenge is a global design challenge by Digital Promise and Ciena that invites middle and high school students to design solutions that address Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is part of a series featuring educators whose students’ projects exemplify core elements of the Challenge: creative use of technology, social purpose, student agency and leadership, and sustainability and scaling. Below are lessons on social purpose from educator Ivanete Paes Landim who facilitated the Seeds for the Future and Ecoaltruism in Action – Sustainable Tourism Project student project teams at PEI Simpliciano Campolim de Almeida in Brazil.

Where I Teach

My school began to serve the public as a Full-Time Education Program School in 2022. In Brazil, this type of school provides comprehensive educational services, including academic, curriculum-based classes alongside opportunities for students to learn and develop life skills. The objective is to promote youth protagonism and foster the autonomy and competencies needed to lead their own actions. The specific characteristics of such programs can vary depending on the educational institution, but they typically include extracurricular activities and other support services. In our case, we run a full-time, comprehensive school during the day, and at night, we offer a youth and adult education program.

Into this context, the Ciena Solutions Challenge introduced a fresh approach to our school, fostering student engagement and allowing them to act as investigators and researchers in projects with a social impact. Through our involvement in the Challenge, we gained a deeper understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals and their connection to the real-world challenges our region is facing. And, through our own activities, we discovered how schools can be pioneers in partnering with the community to design meaningful solutions to these challenges.

Chemistry in Action: Creating Sustainable Resin Cleaners

Our journey in the Ciena Solutions Challenge began with a simple question: How can we address a real issue in our Nova Campina, São Paulo, community? Students chose to focus on the significance of resin in the city, recognizing its connection to adolescent employment. Involving youth in resin production can yield substantial benefits for the local economy and their personal development. Their participation in the resin industry offers opportunities for learning, professional growth, the acquisition of practical skills, environmental awareness, and a deeper understanding of the importance of forest conservation. However, it is essential to ensure that these activities are carried out in accordance with labor laws and safety standards, ensuring the well-being and physical safety of the adolescents involved.

During their investigation, students discovered a significant issue faced by resin workers: the challenge of removing sticky resin residue from their hands. To address this problem, the students engaged in a project to develop an environmentally-friendly and sustainable detergent, offering an engaging and practical application in Chemistry classes. The solution has already been tested and approved, and the next step is to work on creating ecological packaging and publicizing it to the community.

In Chemistry we did an experiment in which we needed to create a solution that would remove resin from the skin, an experience that was not only cool, but also very necessary, since resin extraction is a very common job where we live, especially among young people.
Julia S. – Student

Learning Beyond the Classroom through Sustainable Tourism

Over time, our students’ activities evolved and developed into an Ecoaltruism in Action – Sustainable Tourism Project that uses trips and tours as a learning tool outside the traditional school environment.
Sign post that says "Do today what will make you proud tomorrow."
By experiencing practical and immersive experiences in historical, cultural, or natural places, students have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills and stimulate their interest and curiosity. This approach promotes meaningful learning, making academic content more concrete and relevant to real life. In addition, pedagogical tourism contributes to the formation of conscious and critical citizens, connecting students with different social and cultural realities.

By establishing emotional connections with the themes, students tend to cultivate learning that is more sustainable and driven by their own motivation. This strategy also transforms our students into researchers, thereby increasing their awareness of their local community and empowering them to take creative actions.

A teacher and students sit together at a lab table.
In addition to their studies and experiments in the school laboratory, students conducted research related to water in the school and surrounding areas, including measuring the pH value of local water sources and sharing their findings with local authorities to ensure water safety.

I carried out an experiment with a balloon and coffee under the guidance of my chemistry teacher to understand the greenhouse effect. I saw the balloon inflate, showing how gasses retain heat, similar to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. I learned that the increase in greenhouse gasses, such as CO2, contributes to global warming and climate change. This experience helped me consider sustainable solutions and my role in protecting the environment.
Josias M. – Student

A student works on an experiment in a lab.
A close-up of students' hands working on an experiment.
Along with a chemistry and geography teacher at the school, students traveled to a nearby neighborhood to learn about the Declaração de Aptidão ao Pronaf (DAP), a document that provides eligible individuals with access to various government programs and resources designed to support family farming, including credit lines, technical assistance, and other agricultural and rural development initiatives.
A person measures the circumference of a tree trunk.
A student measures the circumference of a tree trunk.
While there, they measured the height of the neighborhood’s native trees to obtain the cubic averages of predetermined paddocks and then used Google Maps to obtain the square footage of the native forest and how many cubic meters of wood could be found there.
Students work at computers in a computer lab.
As they explored the region more, students decided to use leftover wood from some local sawmills to highlight various places in the city and thus alert tourists about the importance of conserving places that have the potential to be tourism destinations.
Two people have a conversation in a forest.

The Power of Community Partnerships

As a teacher I know how important it is to engage students in real-world learning experiences, and our community connections have played a key role in providing those opportunities. Fostering connections with local institutions in the region has led to opportunities like local universities and the Municipal Department of Tourism and Culture hosting us for workshops and lectures, and even providing transportation for certain student activities. Additionally, on World Environment Day, we collaborated with the Municipal Department of Agriculture to acquire native plant seedlings to plant in our school.
Two students place a plant in the ground.
A student plants a plant into the ground.
Three students place a plant into the ground.
These institutions believe in our project and in our social purpose. Our students are carrying out work that is not restricted to the school environment or the classroom, but rather extends beyond the school walls. Students have realized that their actions have been transformed, not only into more meaningful learning, but also into a stronger community surrounding the school.
A student paints a sign.
A student takes a picture of a painted sign.
My message to other educators and students is that it is possible to bring together all our actions in an interdisciplinary way towards a single objective, which is to learn how to live and co-exist in harmony with the environment, knowing that we can adopt meaningful strategies of learning for a better world. Take advantage of learning opportunities where students can see that the future depends on them, too.

Learn more about the Ciena Solutions Challenge

Sign Up For Updates! Email icon

Sign up for updates!