Alongside my colleague, Margaret Gunter, her 4th grade students are in the middle of a Passions & Curiosities Drive Learning challenge we are calling #DEEPdt Co/Lab (more on this in another blog post).

Originally, the students had been working on trying to encourage others to begin recycling in the School’s cafeteria.  That challenge was called #DEEPdt It’s a Start: Operation Milk Carton.  The reason behind the name is because the School uses styrofoam plates, bowls, trays, dessert plates, paper cups, paper covered straws, plastic wear, plastic juice cups, and cardboard milk cartons.  For several years, people have observed the School’s use of these eco-sad materials.  Questions have been asked, efforts have been made to reduce or eliminate these materials, and Operation Milk Carton was a place to start recycling in a space where Kinders to Adults could begin changing behaviors & raising awareness.  The thing is, the solution the 4th graders designed worked really well. Students gradually and consistently were separating their milk cartons from the rest of the trash. So why the switch to another challenge before Shipping this solution?  The prototype designed, tested, iterated by the students only operated when an adult placed it by the trash cans.   When we returned from Christmas break, Mrs. Gunter and I purposefully stayed quiet and waited for the students to either notice or say something about Operation Milk Carton… We waited for two weeks and no one said anything. The students were finally reminded if they wanted to get their prototype back into play, they had the green light… Two weeks passed by and still no movement or even talk about Operation Milk Carton by the students. The adults noticed and hoped they would want to start again as it was working. But no dice, students at the moment did not care about this problem or their solution.  Or at least that was the assumption.

A lightbulb went off in my head around this time and I asked the question, “Who cares about Operation Milk Carton?”  No one raised their hand.  How can we expect our students to put forth effort, extra time, and follow through on things they don’t really care much about in the first place?  It was the adults who brought this need to the students’s attention. We hoped their young minds would be able to figure out a way to get the eco-sad materials reduced, recycled, and/or eliminated in our cafeteria space. And they did but I guess the next questions should have been who maintains it?  Who keeps it going?  How does the solution not become another layer to someone else’s 100+ layer job?

The evidence showed us that the students didn’t care but I wonder if we misread it.  When the prototype was put into operation it worked, the students were wanting to recycle their milk cartons.  They actually wanted to recycle other things if there was a place for the materials to go besides the trash can. I wonder if we were asking too much from the students to maintain their solution for Users. Or were we asking to little of the adults in the space?  It is a fine line when you are trying to put the reins in your students hands so they learn how to make decisions, change courses of action, demonstrate responsibility, take risks, take initiative, and take ownership.  In the end they solved the problem, I guess the lingering question is a problem identified and a solution created is one thing. Who holds the bag to put it in the recycling pile? Well, that is a whole other problem to solve for.