Teachers4Europe: Cultivating collaboration in a greenhouse. A greenhouse co-operated by special children, unaccompanied minors and an Arduino platform

Teacher’s name: Argyrios Biris

T4E Ambassador’s name: Eftichia Plakarou

School name: Special Elementary School of Agria, Greece

Country: Greece                                                                                              

EU challenge:

Our special elementary school resides in the Pedopolis* of Agria, which also boasts a shelter for unaccompanied minors operated by the Red Cross.

Both our children with severe learning difficulties, such as mental retardation, autism, motor and sensory disabilities etc. as well as the immigrant minors, belong to groups experiencing social exclusion (lack of engagement with peer groups, lack of everyday out of the school activities, detachment from the social life, absence from hobbies etc.) despite the EU guidelines about integration.

Also, although significant steps towards the EU regulations for waste management have been taken during the last two decades, many Greek schools have not implemented a clear policy on the matter. The students therefore do not feel motivated to engage in an ecofriendly behavior (recycling, reusing, composting etc.).

* Pedopoleis were establishments for orphaned children after the Greek civil war. Today these complexes house different activities and organizations.                                                                                              

Issue(s) addressed:

  • Active implementation of EU policies (e.g. the Euridice report, see resources)on integration on our everyday school life, through out of the class, hands-on actions.
  • Ecological awareness and practical training for actions such as recycling, composting, reducing waste, reusing, relying on minimum resources, according to the EU directives for greener schools (“Ecofriendly schools” as the EU ).
  • Enhancing understanding of EU values and fundamental rights.

Appreciating democratic culture (inclusion, engagement, eco awareness etc.) as a basic EU value with the aim to become mainstreamed in the curriculum.                                                                                              

Themes addressed: Knowledge of EU issues, EU democratic values, human rights, sustainability, immigration                                                                                              

Target group:

Students of the Special Elementary School of Agria, Greece

Unaccompanied minors

Teachers of the school and staff of the Red Cross facility No of participants: 12 students of the Special School of Agria, Greece,

5 unaccompanied minors of the nearby Red Cross shelter

15 schoolteachers and special staff                         

Duration: 8 months

School subjects involved: Cross-curricular, hands-on, out of the class activities combining life skills, soft skills, ICT, teamwork, agriculture, science.

Project title:

              Teachers4Europe: Cultivating collaboration in a greenhouse. A greenhouse co-operated by special children, unaccompanied minors and an Arduino platform

Logo transparent

Figure 1: Project logo (transparent/white version)

Key words (max 5):      Special education, immigrants, unaccompanied minors, non-formal education, greenhouse

Aims:

  •        To learn how Europe values the environment.
  • To learn what specific actions has the EU implemented and what can we, as European citizens, do in our everyday life towards this direction.
  • To learn from immigrants about their integration problems and take a step in accepting them in our community.
  • To learn about sustainability through recycling, reusing, composting.
  • To learn what forms may agriculture take in Europe, one of the most productive areas globally and especially how a low cost, open source platform, such as Arduino offers smart monitoring and applied solutions.
  • To work as a team: High social trust doesn’t just happen. It results when people are spontaneously responsible for one another in the daily interactions of life and when the institutions of society, even at the lowest level, as a small special elementary school, function well.

Learning outcomes:

  •        To teach our students how to co-operate with minors from other countries
  • To teach unaccompanied minors how to be mentors in our special school
  • To learn how to grow plants and herbs in a greenhouse
  • To learn how to use smart, open platforms such as Arduino for our aims
  • To promote hands-on, out of the class education
  • To enrich our non-formal educational activities
  • Acceptance and diversity

In short: Communicative skills, organizational skills, ICT skills, cooperative skills, agriculture in a greenhouse

Components of competences developed:

              Here is an outline in reference to the different stakeholders of the project:

For the students of our school:

  • Being eco-aware EU citizens
  • Co-operation and interaction with immigrants
  • Discovery learning
  • Self-initiated, self-regulated learning
  • Reflective learning
  • Personalized learning
  • Multidisciplinary approach
  • Sustainability, recycling, reusing in everyday life, EU way

For the unaccompanied Red Cross minors:

  • Learning how is EU dealing with environmental issues
  • Experience what the EU citizens may do in their everyday life to promote sustainability and an eco-friendly approach to agriculture
  • What can they, as immigrants with each own’s background, offer in the context of this project?
  • Get an understanding of the main European principles of solidarity, cooperation, equality, acceptance

For educators:

  • Learn how to assimilate immigrants using out of the class, hands-on, non-verbal and other activities
  • Formulate for the school and teach to students a plan for a greener, eco-friendly school, in line with EU initiatives (e.g. Ecofriendly schools for a brighter future at https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/latest/practices/ecofriendly-schools-future.htm)
  • Learn how to form a coherent multicultural team.
  • Learn how to teach with minimal intervention, serve more as facilitators/observers.

Everyone gets in touch with a practical application of a smart, open platform in agriculture and also have fun!

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Figure 2: The stakeholders and their roles, plus the smart component

  • Materials: A prefabricated, assembly only greenhouse
  • An Arduino platform with Wi-Fi setup, sensors and servo mechanisms
  • Pots and seeds or plants
  • Geofabric
  • A compost bin to produce fertilizer
  • A4-size paper, pens, pencils, markers, erasers, staplers, scissors, blu tac, laptop, projector, USB stick
  • Tags and boards outlining directions, mottos, project branding and logos
  • Project diaries
  • Preparation:           Negotiation of project methodology
  • Project planning – timetable
  • A day set for communication between stakeholders
  • Present the project to the school staff
  • Present the project to the Red Cross shelter manager and staff
  • Make an agreement of cooperation with the Red Cross and form a team of minors who will be the mentors
  • Ensure there is Internet connection available and working laptops, projector, prepare role cards, make a detailed lesson plan or scenario, make photocopies
  • Present the idea to the unaccompanied minors of the Red Cross shelter. Talk to them about composting, recycling and using a greenhouse. Give them handouts about appropriate materials for composting and make a weekly visit plan.
  • Set up the composting container
  • Use geofabric as a substrate
  • Assemble the greenhouse
  • Ensure there is electric and water connection for the greenhouse
  • Assemble the Arduino platform
  • Create project insignia and logos.
  • Discuss the plan with our students. Show them the greenhouse, discuss with them what they are willing to do, show them by leading by hand how to do things
  • Visit the greenhouse with both minors and students and make acquaintances
  • View together all different parts and get a knowledge on their function
  • Hand out diaries and give instructions on how to keep records for everyone

Resources:

              Web:

Books and journals

  • Sharan, Shlomo (Ed) Handbook of cooperative learning methods. Greenwood educators’ reference collection. Westport, CT, US: Greenwood Press/Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • King, A. (1993). From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching 41(1), p. 30-35. This article discusses several active-learning techniques that instructors can use to help students construct knowledge.
  • Tewksbury, B.J. (1995). Specific strategies for using the jigsaw technique for working in groups in non-lecture-based courses. Journal of Geological Education v 43, p 322-326.
  • Tips for expected difficulties:       Communication problems due to language issues will be overcome with the use of a interpreter, translating platforms such as Google, translated instructions etc.
  • Copyright issues for materials and software: Material, photos, designs will be sourced from Creative Commons, with open licenses and software will be open source
  • Due to the Coronavirus outbreak some delivery of materials may be delayed. In this case, the project duration will not be altered, just the commencing date. Disturbances in the operation of the school may also be observed.

Instructions (step by step):

          Step 1. Introducing the project to the school

The project will be presented to the school staff through a PowerPoint presentation and a memo outlining the demanded tasks, the weekly program and the scopes.

Step 2. Collaboration with the Red Cross

The project will be presented to the Red Cross staff through a memo and discussion about the scopes of the project, the objectives, the terms of cooperation, the technical details etc.

Step 3. Purchasing the materials

Materials will be purchased: A compost container, a greenhouse with on-site assembly, an Arduino platform with sensors etc. Logos and plates, some multilingual will be created and put in place.

Step 4. Presenting stakeholders with the rationale and aims of the project

A presentation of the EU views on environmental issues, sustainability, everyday actions in the context of environment protection, recycling, reusing and composting, towards the unaccompanied minors and tutors will take place in their premises. A parallel, similar presentation adapted accordingly for our students will take place in school. PowerPoint slide shows, videos and handouts will serve as supporting materials. Tutors will be responsible for monitoring the composting and accompany minors and students to the greenhouse, where more details will be discussed.

Step 5. Running the core project

Two or three weekly meetings between the project manager, students, minors, teachers will be taking place for the next eight months (this may be prolonged accordingly). The project manager will assist the minors to become tutors of the pupils of the special school, e.g. by showing them how to break a task into small, simpler steps, how to allow space for action for everyone, even if the task seems demanding for a special child, enhance bonding of the team, organizing monthly meetings for feedback and reflection etc.

Think-Pair-Share

Ask a question and be aware that open-ended questions are more likely to generate more discussion and higher order thinking. A think-pair-share can take as little as three minutes or can be longer, depending on the question or task and the class size.

Give students a minute to two (longer for more complicated questions) to discuss the question and work out an answer.

Ask students to get together in pairs or at most, groups with three or four students. If need be, have some of the students move. If the instructor definitely wants to stick with pairs of students, but have an odd number of students, then allow one group of three. It’s important to have small groups so that each student can talk.

Ask for responses from some or all of the pairs or small groups. Include time to discuss as a class as well as time for student pairs to address the question. (https://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/interactive/tpshare.html)

Step 6. Spreading the word

Dissemination activities will be planned and implemented (see relevant cell)

Throughout the project: Recording everything using a diary, photographs, records, filling forms etc.

Debriefing:

              Encourage students to recall what they did throughout the project and share their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. By the end of this activity, students will have become familiar with the environmental issues, how the European Community deals with these issues and what actions can we, as European citizens take in our everyday life towards them.

Also, through the teamwork we will have the chance to reflect on integration, acceptance, cultural issues, education for all, including both the perspective of the hosting countries and citizens (pupils and teachers) but also from the immigrants’ point of view.

Especially for teachers, educators and other staff of both the Special Elementary School of Agria, as well as the Red Cross Shelter for unaccompanied minors, reflect on our experiences on issues of inclusion, integration, ecology, pedagogical approaches and techniques. What has worked for us and what challenges we faced, how we dealt with these and what can we, as specialists from Europe do to develop and improve this and other projects in the future.

A major tool for debriefing will be out personal diaries, records, material and everyday discussions about the project.

Evaluation:

              Evaluation, due to the cultural, mental and language background of the participants will be qualitative, verbal, non-formal. It will include discussions about understanding of the issues targeted in our project.

For example, we will ask students and minors on their views about the environment, integration, recycling, cooperation, education etc., all in the European context, values and ethics. Some questions to initiate discussion and to reflect could be the following:

  • What did you do in the activity today?
  • How did you work?
  • What materials did the teacher use?
  • Did you enjoy the activity? How could we make it more enjoyable?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you feel about the activity? Did you like it?
  • What was your favorite part of the activity? Why?
  • What was the part that you did not like so much? Why?
  • Have you got any ideas about how this activity could go on in the future?

A special activity diary will be provided to all the participants, students, unaccompanied minors and teachers. Entries could take an artistic form, e.g. give the students the instruction to sketch whatever they thought as the most interesting part of the day.

Diaries will be handed out to teachers too and there the evaluation may take a more formal, more quantitative form, using Likert scales and the like. Helpful instructions could be to consult their notes, reflect on the activity experience and write a short narrative account using past tenses to describe a) what they did, b) what they learnt, c) how they felt about it, d) whether they liked it or not, their impressions, and opinions, and e) what they would change if they could.

Dissemination of results:

              Key elements of the dissemination plan?

  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Message
  • Methods
  • Timing

Following our National Agency’s guidelines for disseminating results of the Erasmus+ projects (info found in the program guide here: https://www.iky.gr/el/eggrafa-eplus/odigos-eplus/item/download/5443_8862bec14f0f744d018209b831c5578b), we will take so-called “above, through and below the line” actions:

  • Above the line (ATL), i.e., activities that are largely non-targeted and have a wide reach, such as radio and TV talks.
  • Below the line (BTL), i.e., very specific, memorable and direct disseminating activities focused on targeted groups: Targeted mails, corporate presents (in the form of pots, flowers, herbs etc.) etc.
  • Through the line, which involves the use of both ATL & BTL dissemination strategies, e.g. digital (social media, web, newsletters etc.).

In brief, dissemination activities, tools and channels to be considered, are:

  • the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform;
  • project or organizational websites;
  • meetings and visits to key stakeholders;
  • dedicated discussion opportunities such as information sessions, workshops, (online) seminars, training courses, exhibitions, demonstrations, or peer reviews;
  • targeted written material such as reports, articles in specialized press, newsletters, press releases, leaflets or brochures;
  • audiovisual media and products such as radio, TV, YouTube, Flickr, video clips, podcasts or apps;
  • social media (see next cell);
  • public events;
  • project branding and logos;
  • existing contacts and networks;
  • Webpage;
  • trade shows and fairs;
  • corporate gifts.
  • Social media:         A dedicated school page (http://dim-eid-agrias.mag.sch.gr/teachers4europe-cultivating-collaboration-in-a-greenhouse-a-greenhouse-co-operated-by-special-children-unaccompanied-minors-and-an-Arduino-platform/) will reflect through photos, materials, methods, challenges, discussions etc. our progress for the project.
  • A Facebook page will re-post all news and visuals from the school page, plus snapshots of our actions
  • Instagram page for visuals