Happy Geography Awareness Week! As an Education Consultant with EcoSpark, I deliver workshops to teachers and students about how to build sustainable communities. As a former teacher and someone who is passionate about protecting our environment, I really enjoy speaking about how we can build our communities to help protect green spaces, reduce climate change, and accommodate a growing population.
Needless to say, I was very excited when the Halton Region Health Department asked EcoSpark last spring to be a part of their Grade 9 Geography Liveable Communities Speaker Series. The population of Halton Region was 548,435 in 2016 and it’s expected to reach one million people by 2041! It’s extremely important then for students to become aware of how to manage this growth while protecting the environment as their communities mature during their lifetime.
I gave two interactive presentations at Dr. Frank Hayden Secondary School in Burlington on how growth has occurred in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and ways to grow more sustainably in the future. We reviewed the importance of mixed land uses to encourage walkable communities with higher densities, where we are building upwards instead of outwards to help protect green spaces. We also discussed the importance of public and active transportation such as walking and cycling to combat climate change, and brainstormed ways to use green infrastructure such as street trees, green roofs, public parks and renewable energy.
All of the students were very engaged in the small group discussions. I was impressed by the level of knowledge that the students had about the types of land use in their communities. For example, they recognized that there was agricultural land in the area, and they were aware that a lot of the retail land use in the area was single story and predominantly accessed by car. Our discussions challenged the students to think critically about the communities that they live in. They creatively explored solutions to help create more sustainable communities such as including bike paths and adding solar panels to the roofs of buildings.
The final activity involved students designing their own complete community on chart paper using markers and pencil crayons. It was wonderful to see the thought and planning that went into their designs. They used the ideas that we discussed as a class and also came up with their own very creative solutions.
I really enjoyed working with the students and teachers at Dr. Frank Hayden Secondary School and with the staff from Halton Region Health Department. The students learned a lot during the presentation, and enjoyed the activities about how to make their communities more sustainable.
Moving forward, we will be holding additional workshops for geography and science teachers about sustainable development and how to reduce climate change. I also look forward to going into classrooms with teachers to educate students directly about sustainable development.
Kathleen Watt is an Education Consultant at EcoSpark supporting the delivery of our teacher and student workshops on complete communities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. She has completed her Master's in Geography and Bachelor of Education, and loves to bring ideas about environmental sustainability and land use planning into and out of the classroom.