Let's Talk Sustainability Wrap Up

DSC00964.JPGTwo weeks ago was the conclusion of the first phase of Let’s Talk Sustainability, an intensive youth development program that supports high school youth to develop expertise regarding sustainability, online broadcasting, and virtual world construction. Global Kids youth in New York City combined this expertise to produce talk shows that will feature live interviews with scientists and other STEM-related professionals, pre-produced videos, and audience activities. This talk show will be a virtual talk show, filmed within the virtual world Second Life, and will be archived with downloadable materials that will be made available for a broader audience and classrooms around the world.

Let’s Talk Sustainability introduced Global Kids youth to a broad range of concepts related to the topic of sustainability including energy, urbanization, pollution, biodiversity, global warming, and food justice. Youth selected three subtopics to research and designed hour-long talk shows to address each one. Each show was designed to introduce youth audiences to what professionals are doing in these fields and showcase what youth can do to live in a more sustainable world.

Over the summer, youth met at Global Kids’ office for the first phase of the program, which was an intensive five-weeks to develop the talk shows. The second phase this fall will comprise of the talk shows themselves, which will be filmed before a live studio audience in Second Life.

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Each Week in Brief
Week 1 – Youth were introduced to the program and through interactive workshops, were exposed to a wide variety of topics related to sustainability, including biodiversity, alternative energy sources, factory farming, environmental justice, green design, life cycles of products, and climate change, among other things. They were also introduced to Second Life and learned how to create their avatars, move, teleport, and communicate with each other. They visited their first eco-spots in Second Life to participate in activities there. Teens began blogging their reflections and reactions at the end of every day.
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Week 2 – After learning about a lot of different issues, youth also learned about what it takes to run a talk show. They explored the many different roles that it takes to produce a show and also about what it takes to produce a talk show in a virtual world. After visiting a local TV station as well as a talk show in Second Life, they had an even better idea of how they wanted to develop their own shows. By the end of this week, the group chose the three main topics they wanted to explore for their shows.

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Week 3 – The group divided into three subgroups, with each one researching one of the three talk show topics. They eventually narrowed down their topics so that we ended up with: 1] solutions to climate change, 2] food justice as it relates to factory farming, and 3] electronic waste. Each teen received a Project Guide packet to help guide him or her through the next few weeks. The Guide was designed to lead teens through a process of brainstorming exercises, various levels of research, preliminary talk show development, detailed action plans for their groups with roles and deadlines, and interviewing exercises. In Second Life, teens learned the basics of building and “rezzing” objects and explored more eco-spots.

Week 4 – Youth finished working on their Project Guides and started developing their talk show scripts. They also had to identify experts and institutions they could connect with to either help them learn more about their topic, or as potential guest speakers for their fall talk shows. Finally, they developed any pre-produced materials for their talk shows, such as audience quiz questions, interview clips with people, background music, commercials, etc. They had to imagine what it would be possible to do within Second Life that would not be possible in real life.

Week 5 – The last week was spent finalizing talk show scripts and pre-produced materials, and then doing a few practice run-throughs in Second Life. Youth learned how to communicate through headsets using voice in Second Life and were able to practice their scripts. As a culminating summer activity, they each created short video reflections where they introduced themselves, described some of the highlights from the summer, and told us what they want other teenagers to know about sustainability and the environment.

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Below are Maria and Dwight's video reflections:

To watch all youth video reflections on YouTube, click here.

Field Trips
Trips were an essential component of the program because they offered youth an opportunity to both explore places in the city they had never been to, and to see first-hand what other people and organizations are doing to be more sustainable.

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Trips we took this summer:
o Manhattan Neighborhood Network
o Fort Greene Park
o NYC Mayor’s Office
o New York City Transit Museum
o High Line Park
o Union Square Farmer’s Market
o Center for Architecture

guest%20speaker%20pic.jpgGuest Speakers
As much as possible, the program included guest speakers who were experts in their fields and able to speak about particular aspects of sustainability. For example, Tracy Mann was able to speak about rising sea levels and how it’s impacting the lives of people in the Carteret Islands. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin was able to speak about PlaNYC 2030, a long-term initiative to build a greener and more sustainable New York City.

Speakers we had this summer:
o Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability
o Tracy Mann, Climate Wise Women
o Marco Antonio Castro, Bus Roots Project
o Widget Whiteberry, Virtually Speaking
o Ken Miller, Keylink Capital International, LLC
o Alexander Jutkowitz, Market Research & Strategy Consultant
o Catherine Teegarden, Center for Architecture
o Diana Rivera, Manhattan Neighborhood Network Youth Channel

Teen Perspectives on LTS
Blogging was an integral part of our summer program because it allowed for each participant to have the freedom to reflect on what his or her experience was. By creating their own blog pages, they also learned new skills and tools that they could continue to use. While teens had prompts that they could answer for their blog entries, they were allowed to write about anything they wanted as it related to the program. Some quotes from their blogs:

Maria: Today we were working on our projects again. If most of you don't know yet, my project is about global warming. At first I didn't want to use a Google doc to do my project, but then I started using it and found it to be more enjoyable than writing. I am a slow type writer so I usually like to write but I actually preferred to type. I kinda didn't even want to go to lunch because of the project, which is kinda sad. We were engaging ourselves in typing random bits of our project that needed to be done. The fact that there was a whole bunch of writing in my doc just made me more excited to get more done. I kept changing the color of the font and commenting on my fellow project members' work. This project is actually becoming more enjoyable as time goes on, I mean I'm having fun!!!!!!

Nicholas: Today was the first time i actually was set out to interview a series of total strangers, and I must say, it was a fun experience. Although I had my few worries before I started with what I would say, as I started it all flowed naturally. Sure there were like two people that blew me off but I didn't care. The other young ladies that me and my partner did get to interview were actually very wise and open to our topic, which was food production. One provided us with tons of sources that she watched and read about the topic - books, videos, documentaries, etc. Overall it was a growing, educating, fun experience.

Jason: Today we worked at Fort Greene Park where we raked leaves because of certain trees losing its leaves twice a year due to its self defense mechanism that fights against fungi and so. We managed to rake up monster piles of leaves, which filled up to 5 bags just to get that pile over with. In total we manage to get 44 bags of raked up leaves which size was about 5-25 pounds. This shows that as global kids we also work hard to get help our community and take action. We are not just all talk we take action we help clam back the air and land to make it once again a cleaner environment.

Quishauna: I am ready for my close up ! There was a lot of interesting things that went on today starting with research on our individual subjects, going to a movie about global warming called An Inconvenient Truth, and ending with a sketch of our own virtual talk show ! There was a lot of work done today! Some ideas I have for my own talk show would be fundamental games and also a nice comfortable neutral colored studio so that my audience and guest can be relaxed. The mind map of the sub topics for our overall theme, which happens to be food processing, for my group was really exciting. What particularly stood out to me was the talk about high-fructose corn syrup ! Our group has progressed tremendously and I feel we are going to do very well on our talk show. There could be a little bit more participation but ultimately it has been really amazing !

Derrick: My experience of the second life was amazing. I never thought it would be this fun and this easy meeting new people. Second Life was like a better and improved new world of our current world, where we can do things out of the extraordinary such as flying. I also enjoyed the chatting to my new friends and the idea that we could do almost everything we want to.

Conclusion
Above is just a brief overview of a wide range of experiences and activities that the teens went through this summer in LTS. Most of the youth told us that they did not know anything about sustainability prior to the program and that now they feel much more informed about the environment. From a facilitator’s perspective, I saw the process of our teens growth, as they absorbed all of the content they were learning, designed and planned in groups, developed leadership, public speaking, and workplace skills, and learned new digital tools.

While the program relied heavily on the virtual world of Second Life, students used laptops everyday for a variety of reasons, and in doing so, became more proficient in general computer usage, Internet research, Google Docs, Flip cameras, iMovie, blogging, and many other tools that were new to them.

However, the summer was not without its challenges. There were the technical difficulties of running a program in Second Life, which requires a lot of bandwidth and high-speed Internet connection. Also, the program length was five consecutive weeks every Monday-Thursday (as well as some Fridays), from 10am-4pm, which was tiring for teens that had never worked for such a long period of time before.

Let’s Talk Sustainability is a great example of how a variety of digital tools as well as virtual worlds can be engaging and useful mediums to enrich learning for youth. As supplements to face-to-face interactive and experiential workshops and the relationships that are built between facilitators and youth, they open up new opportunities and perspectives that teens can access and take with them into other areas of their lives.

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