#everybodypoops: Exploring Affordable Sanitation in Developing Countries

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The most effective use of Project Based Learning that I have ever been a part of occurred in my Biology II, The Great Diseases course where the students were studying inadequate access to sanitation around the world. The students were asked to acknowledge World Toilet Day put forth by the World Health Organization in February of last year. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness to the 2.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to adequate sanitation methods. The students were asked to observe this day by only using one toilet facility on campus, and this facility happened to be a 5 – 7 minute walk from the majority of their classrooms. The other stipulation was that the timing of the use of this facility could not be disruptive to any of their classes or their teachers. They needed to plan out when they would be able to go to the bathroom so that it was convenient for them without being obtrusive. The students commented that they originally thought that the day was going to be amusing or even fun, until it became a nuisance. This simple activity allowed the students to develop empathy for the many people in the developing world that also have to plan out the proper time to find and use the bathroom facilities so that it is convenient and more importantly, safe, for them.

In reflection of the toilet awareness activity in the following class, a discussion ensued about the injustice of the inadequate sanitation issues around the world and the students indicated at that time that they wanted to learn more about this issue. It was at this point that I could see the beginnings of a project that I had not planned. I asked the students to do some preliminary and independent research on areas around the world that suffered most significantly from inadequate access to sanitation and to be prepared to report out on that research in the following class period. The students discussed their findings and decided that they were most interested in learning more about inadequate access to sanitation of the squatting communities in urban India. The students were moved by a recent reporting of two young girls in Uttar Pradesh, India who had gone into a field at night to relieve themselves and were followed by two men who proceeded to rape and murder these young girls. It was a devastating and tragic story and the students were outraged and decided that they wanted to help.

In my own preliminary research about toilets in developing nations, I came across a TedTalk, Innovation to Sanitation Through Empathic Design, by Jasmine Burton. Burton, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, majored in Empathic Design. I felt that Jasmine would be an interesting connection for my students because of her geographic location and her age. So, I found her email address on her web page and reached out to Ms. Burton to see if she would be willing to respond with some information about her toilet design and the implementation of her design in Africa. Ms. Burton replied that she would be very excited to speak to my students and asked to Skype with them if possible.

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The Skype session took place the following week with Ms. Burton, who, unbeknownst to us, was currently living in Zambia and working on the implementation of her own empathically designed toilet into rural villages there. Prior to the Skype session, the students read about Ms. Burton, her business Wish For Wash, and her toilet design. The session lasted approximately 50 minutes with the students leading the discussion through their questions.

After the Skype session with Ms. Burton, the students told me that they were very interested in moving forward with their research and wanted to design a toilet for the squatting communities in India. The students used the next few weeks to research existing designs, created their own toilet designs, and then made prototypes of their design in the Maker Space of their school out of cardboard and plastic materials. Ms. Burton had asked to Skype with the students again after they created their prototypes so that she could offer suggestions for modifications that would help make the design of their toilets more functional.

During the second Skype session, Ms. Burton told the students that she thought that their designs were creative but that they would not know if they were feasible until they created them out of corrugated cardboard (which many life-size prototypes are made from, apparently) and made the toilets true to size. At this point, I just looked up Corrugated Cardboard in Richmond, VA and reached out to a local corrugated cardboard company, Richmond Corrugated Box, that agreed to allow my students and me to come to the factory for a tour. While there, the students were able to work with Richmond Corrugated Box’s Graphic Designer to import their prototype designs onto the software and print them on corrugated cardboard.

The experience was beneficial to students as they were able to see their designs in real time, make modifications in the moment, and then have them printed so that they designs were an adequate representation of what they wanted for their field toilets.

The final aspect of this project was a Skype session with Ms. Burton to show her the student designs and discuss the pros and cons of each design. Ms. Burton suggested reaching out to various NGOs to discuss the possibility of adopting the toilet design to have them mass-produced and shipped to India. The students were not ready for this step however because there were many unanswered questions that needed to be addressed before the designs felt sufficient and useful enough for the students to move forward with production.

This project was extremely in-depth and the students were exposed to multiple facets of learning that they would not have if they did not take on this project. They were tasked with designing a toilet that would be light enough to move, sturdy enough to withstand multiple uses, to weigh the pros and cons of a sitting vs. squatting toilet, the financial burden of mass-producing a product such as this, the logistics of finding a way to deliver the design to India, the environmental impacts of the dumping of these toilets which would inevitably happen on the streets and in the drainage run-off areas. The list is endless and though this project took longer than expected, the depth and breadth of learning was also more comprehensive than expected which lead to a feeling of successful learning of the students and myself. A number of the students went on to write their college entrance essays about this project, entitled #everybodypoops (which you can follow on Twitter).

Project-based learning is a tool used to develop 21st-century skills and to put content knowledge into practice in an authentic way. PBL is not a new tool but it is the only tool that this career educator has found that can accomplish these goals of skill development, content knowledge enhancement, and problem-solving prowess.

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Globalizing Your Curriculum: Promoting Global Citizenship by Bringing the World Into Our Classrooms

globalizingcurriculumTeaching global competencies is an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations are immeasurable. Global education develops a skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curriculums with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.

As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then, how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?

The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.

I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.

Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late dentification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.

It is difficult to find actual usable information on the web about how to incorporate global education into our curriculum. I think these websites below do a good job of starting you on that journey, however, in most instances they fall flat on the “how to” aspect. I am working on another blog post that will give very specific ideas, examples, and strategies as to how to globalize your classroom. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

Websites for larger projects and collaboration: