29 Nov, 2018
10 : 00
At the end of last term, twelve students in Year 3 found themselves in the Chief Executive’s office at Baidu Waimai (now Ele.me), pitching their ideas for reducing the use of disposable chopsticks. Ms Jane Kang, one of our Learning Community Leaders at Yew Chung International School of Beijing, and Mr James Sweeney, Head of Primary, discuss the project.
The sustainability unit
It all began with our sustainability unit. A few weeks before, a whale was washed up on a beach in Spain. It had died from eating 29kg of plastic waste. We spoke about the issue of plastics with the children, but it wasn’t until we saw them making “save the whale” posters in their free time that we realised it had really struck a chord.
In exploring our sustainability unit further, we introduced different issues of sustainability – palm oil leading to deforestation, global warming melting ice caps, and of course the billions of tonnes of plastic waste that end up in our ocean. We also explored some of the complexities of sustainability, such as how some communities depend on jobs provided by plastic manufacturers to survive.
Coming up with a solution
Once our students had explored a variety of sustainability issues, we asked them to come up with an idea to help combat waste. They chose to sell reusable sustainable chopsticks. They used their maths skills to calculate profit margins, their creative skills to design posters selling the chopsticks, and language skills to communicate what they had learned in English and Chinese.
The chopsticks sold out quickly among other students, parents and staff and the children were enthused. But now they had convinced their peers and the school community, what next?
Tackling big business
The children agreed that to make the biggest change, we must convince big businesses. Who sends out millions of disposable chopsticks every day? The food delivery companies. In 2017, Ele.me processed 9 million deliveries a day. With each of those containing a pair of disposable chopsticks, change needs to start with them.
Students wrote letters to the CEO of Baidu Waimai. This was a valuable English lesson in using persuasive language and letter-writing, and they had to research and gather evidence on statistics and the impact on the environment.
To the headquarters!
Impressed by our letters, Baidu Waimai invited twelve of our in to present their ideas to the CEO and leadership team. To prepare, our students created and sent out a survey which was completed by several hundred parents and family friends. This survey showed overwhelmingly that customers would like to see a reduction in single-use cutlery.
Our students opened the presentation with a video that they created and reinforced their arguments with a solution: introduce “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” for disposable cutlery.
The Baidu Waimai team were very impressed and interested to hear our children’s suggestions. Students even pointed out a current error with the “opt-out” function on the app, which the tech team made note of! The Chief Executive promised to do his part, but reminded our students that small changes also make a difference.
We often teach topics in this way, allowing students to explore a subject using multiple skills and disciplines. For this project, our students used maths, language, design, research, analysis, script-writing and presenting skills to name a few. It was also a strong lesson in character – teaching the children how to make a change when you care about something.
Real life significance
Teaching topics in such a way, and allowing students to go out into the real world with their findings, brings significance to school learning. One of our students turned to me and said “this doesn’t feel like school, it feels like life”, which sums up brilliantly what we strive to do in our Learning Communities.
Watch the video our students presented to Ele.me below!