Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas


Earth Day 2014 is right around the corner, and this year the theme is "Green Cities." Are you planning on incorporating the annual event in your classroom?
There are many different learning opportunities on Earth Day, whether it's science-based investigations, thematic reading, or creative arts projects. To help teachers brainstorm some ways to incorporate Earth Day, we've compiled a list of resources that teachers can use to bring environmental education to students. There's a bit of everything, including lesson plans, tools and resources, and student reading lists.

Earth Day Lesson Plans:

  • K-5 Earth Day Curriculum Resources: The National Education Association produced this resource for teachers, which features seven in-depth lesson plans, Earth Day games, and a list of outside links for students in grades K-5. There are also three entire unit plans as well.
  • Environmental Education Resources from The Nature Conservancy: This resource created by scientists with The Nature Conservancy features lesson plans, reading materials, and interactive videos in a variety of environmental subject areas. For instance, students can browse lessons that look at soil science, food science, and energy, among others. The lessons are offered as part of the Conservancy's Nature Works Everywhere initiative.
  • Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink: Here, teachers will find six lesson plans written by teachers for students in grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9. Provided are resources for Earth Day-themed writing assignments, eco-reading activities, and environmental research projects. The page also features ideas for after-school and at-home learning.
  • Earth Day Lesson Collection from Science NetLinks: Although this collection was produced in 2012, it's still extremely useful for Earth Day 2014. Science NetLinks has produced a long list of lessons and learning tools on a variety of earth science subjects, and they're all easy to browse by grade-level.

Classroom Ideas for Earth Day Activities:

Earth Day Reading For Students:

  • 2014 Earth Day Recommended Reading: The Florida Department of Education produced this list of books and literature with options for every grade level.
  • Suggested Reading for Environmental Learning: Via the Environmental Education Foundation, this list highlights books for every grade. Note: The list is in no particular order, so elementary and high school books are intermixed.
  • Tips for Encouraging Readers on Earth Day: The Earth Day Network produced this list of ideas for encouraging students to read about environmental topics. In addition to the tips, though, you'll find PDF reading lists of environmental books for elementary, middle school, and high school students.


Earth Day has deep roots in education. The first one was in 1970, held as a "national teach-in on the environment." It was groundbreaking in that it brought together people with different beliefs and backgrounds to fight for a single cause. We celebrate on April 22nd, but you can teach your students about sustainability and environmental stewardship all year round. It doesn't take much for kids to feel like they can make a difference for our planet, mobilizing them to be life-long environmentalists! Here's a playlist of videos to get started.

Video Playlist: Earth Day

Watch the player below to see the whole playlist, or view it on YouTube.
  1. Mobilize The Earth (01:02) This year's Earth Day theme is "Green Cities." Visit Earth Day Network's website to take the pledge towards 2 billion acts of green.
  2. Get 'em Outside! (05:35) This great video shows how every subject ties in to environmental ed, and asks educators and parents to get the kids outside!
  3. The Earth Day Network's Education Department (02:10) Learn about about the history of Earth Day and the Earth Day Network's work in education.
  4. Natural Growth: Connecting Urban Youth with Nature (04:07) This moving video follows a group of kids from Brooklyn as they re-connect with nature through the LEAF program.
  5. Change the World in 5 Minutes - Everyday at School (04:33) Love this spunky Australian video where a team of exuberant kids explain how to change the world in just five minutes every day.
  6. How To Plan Earth Day Classroom Projects (01:14) A few basic Earth Day activities to get your creative juices flowing. Perfect if you only have a few moments to brainstorm.
  7. GOOD: Use Less Plastic (01:49) Short but powerful message from GOOD Magazine about how plastic impacts the environment. Remember your re-usable grocery bags!
  8. Earth Hour 2014 Video (01:53) Did you know there's an "Earth Hour" in addition to Earth Day? In late March every year, people around the world turn off the power.
  9. Wetland Watchers: Kids Care for Their Environment (08:09) Service learning in action in a middle school classroom in Louisiana -- sixth graders learn to restore the wetlands near their school.
  10. The World Is Just Awesome (01:01) This fun viral ad became a user-generated meme as people made their own "Boom De Ah Dah" videos about what they loved about the earth.
  11. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots (04:29) Celebrated conservationist Jane Goodall enables young people to save the planet with her organization's message of hope.
  12. Earth Day (Friday Parody) (01:53) YouTube is chock full of Earth Day / Friday parodies. This one is to promote a school's Earth Day Film Festival of student-produced videos. Sorry!

Teaching Environmental Education Through Service Learning

So here's the question: how do you get from crafty commemorative activities for Earth Day to meaningful projects that have lasting value? Start by reading former Edutopia blogger Gaetan Pappalardo's blog post, Elementary Art and Service Learning Projects for Earth Day and Beyond, where he tackles that very topic. Visit the Earth Day Network's Green Schools Leadership Center to find lesson plans, grant information, and an online community. You can also get teaching resources at the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Go Green Initiative. Join Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots service learning organization, or get involved with the Nature Conservancy's Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. Start in your own room by reading How to Go Green: Teachers from Discovery's Treehugger website, or pursue whole-school change with the National Wildlife Federation's Eco-Schools movement. From small personal actions to large-scale reform, it's always a great time to teach the next generation about taking care of the planet.


During the first Earth Day in 1970, tens of thousands of Vietnam War protestors took to Central Park in New York and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia calling for peace on earth. Today, the movement has grown substantially and quietly, shifting attention toward the science documenting alarming global environmental degradation and offering young learners a platform for supporting the planet's physical health, ensuring a home for their future.
By definition, Earth Day is a global learning day. Earth, water, air quality, climate, chemistry, physics, physiology, plant life and animal habitats don't respect national boundaries, so they are inherently global in nature, inviting wider exploration and conversation. This fact in itself can serve as a launch for a global conversation. Vexing challenges that stump the best scientific minds are solved globally using collaborative teams located in different locales that experiment and study issues from diverse angles and approaches. The lives of environmental pioneers like Wangari Maathai can inspire learning throughout the curriculum.
Go ahead and wear flowers in your hair for Earth Day. Then, to engage in deeper learning, try some of these terrific resources.

Bucket Buddies

The Bucket Buddies Project calls for students around the world to collect water samples from local ponds to answer the question: "Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world?" The lesson plans allow students to identify microinvertebrates in their water sample, share their findings on the web site, and analyze the data.


The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is NASA's hands-on science program that allows classrooms to connect with scientists and science students from around the world. Schools can join their Student Climate Research Campaign and connect with classrooms near and far. While conducting science investigations and sharing their climate science studies, students will be inspired to look at climate-related environmental issues and Earth as a system.

ProjectExplorer and STEM Learning

ProjectExplorer's library of two-to-four-minute videos was created to introduce students to the features that make diverse cultures and countries so fascinating. Start at the homepage by choosing your learning level (e.g., Upper Elementary), pick a spot on the globe that has a project marker, and take off. For example, in the Mauritius series, learn how the island was formed, about the science and the ancient origins of the helicopter, how mineral deposits created gorgeous multi-colored sand found only on that island, how fish breathe, and more. Supplement your "travels" in this series by tapping into National Geographic's new Geo-Educator Community.

The Daffodil and Tulip Project

The Daffodil and Tulip Project was started by iEARN, which works to connect schools and teachers across the planet, and has a bank of great collaborative project ideas. This project offers a science/math/writing/friendship experience that can be as simple or as complicated as a classroom is ready to take on. Classrooms around the world choose daffodil and/or tulip bulbs to plant during the same week in November. Students collect temperature data throughout the experiment, including when blooms appear, and report their results -- both to their classmates and to their partner classes in other locales. For Earth Day, you can compare the bulbs in your community to postings made by ongoing project participants.
This project's description page shows participation from Jamaica, Israel, Iran and the United States. iEARN reports:
Participants enjoy interacting together while "waiting" for the blooms. Students have opportunities to use math skills, such as graphing, converting metric to English or the reverse, temperature conversions F to C and the reverse. In addition, they strengthen and practice science skills, i.e. hypothesizing what effects bloom date, collecting data, comparing and analyzing data. Also, students learn the importance of establishing and following a scientific protocol. The ultimate goal of the project is to promote building connections between students and their teachers, considering what affects plant growth, and peace!

Incorporate Global Lessons

Challenge yourself to turn any elementary science unit you're studying into a vehicle for learning more about the wider world. For example, while teaching the water cycle and water conservation, see Teach UNICEF, or the Peace Corps' Passport blog for lesson plans.
Each of these examples offers one big lesson: start with a topic you love, and see where it might lead you. As the founders of Earth Day had hoped, it could even plant the seeds to peace.


A National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability

Recommendations for enhancing  formal education in the U.S. so that all students graduate educated for  a sustainable future by 2040.

This plan represents the perspectives of the leading minds and the strongest champions of Education for Sustainability, together with one voice committing to a series of actions that will ensure that by 2040, every student graduating from a U.S. K-12 school will be equipped to shape a more sustainable future.

Explore the national action plan to gain a deeper understanding of Education for Sustainability and how it enhances learning; to learn from best practices from across the country; and to identify your role in advancing sustainability learning in K12 classrooms nationwide.

Meet the Authors and Explore the Recommendations


David Sobel 
Senior Faculty, Education Department
Antioch University New England

“In the 21st century, the school should operate as a healthy ecosystem, serving as a model of American culture and global interdependence.”


Susan Jane Gentile
Antioch University

“If we perceive the complexity of the challenge before us through the lens of nested systems … we will be able to address in an authentic context all the needs and objectives outlined, making our transformation efforts both most efficient and most effective.”


Cynthia Thomashow
Director of Urban Learning

“By 2016, survey, research and convene public and private organizations cultivating new and innovative processes to learn from, enroll and secure commitments from diverse constituencies in designing strategies to support EfS."


Todd Cohen
SEED Center, an initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges

“Work-based learning opportunities such as internships, apprenticeships, field trips, and job shadowing should be core instructional strategies within EfS, especially in secondary schools."


Kimberly E. Corrigan
Executive Director
Facing the Future

“Solicit advice and support from key formal and informal leaders in K-12 curriculum development to provide rigorous EfS materials and professional development to teach sustainability as its own topic and as a context for teaching core subjects.”


Lisa A. W. Kensler, Ed.D., LEED Green Associate
Associate Professor
Auburn University

Cynthia L. Uline, Ph.D.
Professor, San Diego State University
Director, National Center for 21st Century Schoolhouse

“A working group should draft recommended EfS-related content for inclusion
in the next revision of the Educational Leadership Policy Standards or “ISLLC 2008 standards” by 2015.”


Allen Cooper
Director of State and Local Education Advocacy
National Wildlife Federation

James Elder
Campaign for Environmental Literacy

“Over the next 5 years, integrate existing environmental education and environmental literacy, healthy schools, and green school facility policy into a comprehensive EfS policy agenda.”


Victor Nolet, Ph.D.
Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University

“By June 2014, establish a national network to work with policy makers, teacher education member organizations, and individual teacher education programs so that, by 2024, EfS is embedded into the process of learning to be a teacher.”


Jennifer Cirillo
Director of Professional Development
Shelburne Farms

“Develop shared terminology that communicates the definition and absolute essence of EfS. Utilize existing convenings of the community, to facilitate consensus on non-proprietary terminology by early 2015.”


Jenny Wiedower
K-12 Manager
The Center for Green Schools at USGBC

"Develop shared terminology that communicates the definition and absolute essence of EfS. Utilize existing convenings of the community to facilitate consensus on non-proprietary terminology by early 2015."


Craig N. Shealy, Ph.D.
Professor of Graduate Psychology, James Madison University
Executive Director, International Beliefs and Values Institute

“In order to demonstrate the full potential and differential impact of EfS in a comprehensive manner, a robust research-to-practice agenda must be developed and pursued over the short- and long-term.”


Jennifer Seydel, Ph.D.
Chief Operations/Chief Financial Officer
Green Schools National Network

“Between 2014 and 2030, develop a national network of leaders and researchers who define and lead the transformation of the current assessment models to incorporate higher order thinking skills, EfS standards, global and ecological citizenship skills, and critical skills for innovation.”


Paul Bocko, MEd
Adjunct Faculty & Program Director
Antioch University New England

“Beginning immediately, administrators should identify the need to guide students to solve complex problems with no obvious answer as a part of evaluation, and begin assessing teachers on this skill.”


Saturday, April 12, 2014

10 Things Creative People Know

by Peggy Taylor and Charlie Murphy

Do you consider yourself creative?

If the answer is "no," you are not alone. We have been working as creativity facilitators for close to two decades, and whenever we ask people this question, shockingly few hands go up. It turns out that you don't have to be a great artist to be creative. Creativity is simply our ability to dream things up and make them happen.

Cooking breakfast, planting a garden, even developing a business plan are all creative acts. But here is where the arts do come in. Participating in the arts even—as amateurs—unlocks our creativity and empowers us in our everyday lives.

A recent UCLA study found that when young people engage in the arts at an early age, they outperform their peers in every category, from academics to life skills. Cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien tells us that in many traditional cultures, when an ill person goes to the healer, he or she is asked four questions: When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? When did you stop telling your story? When did you stop sitting in silence? She calls these the healing salves. Numerous studies show that activities like drawing and creative writing—even knitting—raise serotonin levels and decrease anxiety.

Creative expression opens the door to the inner world of our imaginations. It is here that we make meaning of our lives. It is here that motivation takes root. The more creative we are, the more capacity we have to imagine what's possible and make those visions real.

1. Our lives have meaning.

All life is interconnected and full of purpose. There is, as teacher and philosopher Parker Palmer says, a hidden wholeness in each of us waiting to emerge. Discovering our unique purpose is one of the great adventures of life.

2. We are all creative.

Creativity is not found just in the chosen few who exhibit artistic talent. It is a force that flows through every single one of us, allowing us to dream things up and make them happen.

3. Creative expression empowers us.

Making art—when we're not judging ourselves—supercharges our creativity, makes us happy, and heals our wounds.

4. We are good at heart.

At the core of each person is compassion and love for the world. Creative expression gives voice to our goodness.
Try Out a New Story
The power of creative expression to transform is rooted in our human need to be seen and heard. One of the most basic ways to exercise our creativity is to tell our stories. The next time you are in a meeting, at a party, or among a group of friends, try this exercise: What story could each of you tell about yourself in three minutes that would significantly shift people's views of you? After three minutes, the listeners take a moment to acknowledge the storyteller. What new insight did the listeners learn about the storyteller?

5. Life is an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

Something quite different—and more creative—happens when we live life from the vantage point of possibility rather than pathology.

6. Change is an inside job.

We each have a life on the inside that is as real and vast as life on the outside. Coming to know who we are on the inside empowers us to make our lives count.

7. Diversity is a resource.

Nature thrives on complexity and diversity, and the same is true for the human community. Our differences in age, gender, race, culture, and backgrounds provide a rich source of learning.

8. We thrive when we feel supported.

When we identify our strengths and celebrate our successes, we become more powerful.

9. We each have the power to make change.

Regardless of our age or life situation, each of us has something to bring to the table. Learning the skills to make positive change needs to be at the center of education.

10. The challenges of our time require intergenerational collaboration.

When adults take the creativity and vitality of young people seriously, whole new possibilities emerge. Given the challenges currently facing us, we need to walk forward together.


Peggy TaylorAdapted from Catch the Fire: An Art-Full Guide to Unleashing the Creative Power of Youth, Adults and Communities by Peggy Taylor and Charlie Murphy for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Published by New Society Publishers, January 2014.
Read more:

Tiny House Living, Off the Grid

Having a life with less stuff and more experiences is a big driver of the tiny house movement.


This piece originally appeared at Shareable.
Tammy Strobel

LaMar Alexander grew up in a homesteading family. For him, self-sufficiency, including gardening, raising animals and “doing for ourselves” was normal and necessary. He tried city life after college, but says he felt like a slave to a house, bills and employers. At 35, he made a change.

“I had a wake up call,” he explains, “that made me realize that what I really wanted was a simple homestead cabin and to eliminate my dependence on the system, so I could live sustainably while I pursued my dreams.”
Tiny house living is a good way to reduce your ecological footprint, save money, and simplify life down to the things that truly matter.
So Alexander built a house. A very small, 14 ft. x 14 ft. house. A solar and wind powered off-the-grid cabin with a kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs and a bedroom and office upstairs. It cost him $2,000 to build not including the recycled doors and windows, the front porch, and the solar system.

Being an avid outdoorsman, Alexander didn’t need a lot of indoor space, but as an author, videographer, and off-the-grid builder, he did need modern amenities including a cell phone, Internet access, electric lights, indoor toilet, and shower etc., and he has them. Alexander says his tiny house is easy to clean, cheap to heat and cool, and he has no house payments or monthly utility bills.
“I now have the freedom to pursue my dreams,” he says, “and the money I make stays in my pocket and can be used for vacations or to help my family and for a secure retirement. That is the freedom that an off-grid lifestyle makes possible.”

Alexander is part of a growing movement of tiny housers. The options for going tiny are growing. In fact, tiny house villages are even being tested as solutions to homelessness. Within the tiny house movement, there's a contingent who are taking the simplicity, sustainability and freedom of tiny houses to the next level by building their tiny homes off the power grid.

Shareable connected with four experienced, off-the-grid tiny housers to find out how they made the move to living off-the-grid in a tiny house; what challenges they face; how they handle practical matters like electrical, sewage and water; what someone considering off-the-grid living should know; and the benefits of living tiny and off-the-grid.

Contributing to the conversation are Laura LaVoie, who, along with her partner Matt, built an off-the-grid tiny house in the mountains of North Carolina. She also authored the book 120 Ideas for Tiny Living and blogs about tiny house living at Life in 120 Square Feet; Merete Mueller who, along with her partner Christopher, built a 130 square foot, off-the-grid tiny house and documented the experience in the film Tiny: a Story About Living Small; and Alexander, who has produced several books and videos about going off-the-grid, and writes about off-the-grid living at Simple Solar Homesteading.

Benefits, challenges, and legalities

Tiny house, off-the-grid living is a good way to reduce your ecological footprint, save money—"Our bills for energy and water are zero dollars,” explains LaVoie—and simplify life down to the things that truly matter.

"People survived and thrived just fine before electricity came along and still can if you are willing to do things by hand."
“One benefit to tiny house living,” says Mueller, “is that it frees up the money, time and energy that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a house and rent or a mortgage, to be used on other things, like working on creative projects, starting a business, spending time with friends and family, or on other hobbies that bring a lot of satisfaction to one's life.”

She points out that with tiny house, off-the-grid living, the drawbacks can be the same as the benefits.
“One obvious challenge is a minimal amount of space inside,” she says, “But one benefit related to that is being forced to spend more time outside, and being forced to simplify possessions and think about which things matter most.”

Emptying the composting toilet, hauling water and the other “challenges” that come with tiny, off-the-grid living were, for Mueller, part of the allure. “We wanted to know and understand,” she says, “exactly how much water we were consuming.”

Alexander says that the biggest challenges involve government regulations and “burdensome codes.” He also mentions outside interference from neighbors and businesses in the area, securing an adequate water supply, and, if you live in a rural area, isolation and making money in a rural economy.

Regarding zoning issues, all three recommend talking with local authorities as regulations are different in different counties, towns, and even neighborhoods. Mueller suggests calling your local town office to ask questions before making any long-term plans. She also advises getting to know your neighbors.

“In many places with restrictions, those rules will only apply if the neighbors choose to report you or are somehow offended by your situation,” she explains. “So getting to know your neighbors early on, explaining to them your motivations for choosing this lifestyle, and how all of your utilities work, can help to avoid that from happening.” She adds, “It's good to develop allies early on.”

Generally, the closer you are to a city the more rules there are to follow. Because of this, off-the-gridders often choose to live in rural areas in counties that want to increase their tax base and may be more open to alternative structures. Alexander lists Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Missouri as some of the states that promote off-the-grid living.

Taking a tiny house off-the-grid

There’s a direct relationship between tiny houses and off-the-grid living. Having a life with less stuff and more experiences is a big driver of the tiny house movement. Going off-the-grid allows tiny house dwellers to take that simplicity even further.

For LaVoie, the connection between tiny houses and off-the-grid living is one of personal preference.
“The beauty of the tiny house movement is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone who wants to go tiny,” she says. “With the right resources someone can be connected to the grid if they want to. Otherwise, the smaller the house the less energy it needs to run efficiently, so off-grid systems are an easy match.”

Mueller points out that there’s a DIY element that connects the tiny house and off-the-grid movements.

“Not everyone builds their own tiny house, but certainly a very high percentage of people do,” she says. “This means that people living in tiny houses have a greater understanding of how their homes and their utilities work, which is conducive to off-grid living. Tiny housers often like the idea of being self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable, and it's certainly much easier to heat and power a tiny house through off-grid methods than a larger, more traditional house.”

She adds that because many tiny houses are built on wheels—a necessity to bypass building codes—they can't use traditional utilities (a septic system for example), so off-grid methods are often used even if the house is parked in a location with access to the grid.

How much does it cost?

The consensus on how much a tiny, off-the-grid house costs is: it depends. Variables include whether you build the house yourself; how you choose to heat it; how much you spend on off-the-grid energy sources; whether you want to go super-simple or have a luxurious, off-the-grid tiny house. Here’s what LaVoie, Mueller and Alexander had to say about building their tiny houses:
"I think it is especially important for everyone to recognize that there isn't one right way to live simply or off-grid."
LaVoie: We worked with an online company called the Alt-E store and put together a solar power package that was exactly what we wanted. It included two 245 watt panels, a 45 amp charge controller, and three 110 amp hour AGM batteries. We also use an 1800 watt inverter that we already owned. We were able to purchase all of this for around $2,000. The only other investment we made for our off-the-grid lifestyle was our Berkey water filter which cost around $300.

It costs us $0 a month for electricity, heat, and water in our tiny house. There are, of course some other minor costs but paying nothing for energy helps to offset those. For instance, since I work for myself I pay for my own health insurance. We, of course, have phone and internet bills. There is some small cost for fuel like propane and butane but it is really less than about $20 a month.

Mueller: [The cost] completely depends, but in our case when our tiny house was parked in an off-grid location, we only had to purchase a small propane tank once every few months for heating and we purchased water, which we hauled up in large jugs. Our solar system is a pre-made unit called a Sol Man (manufactured by a company called Sol-Solutions) and cost about $5,000. It cost us about $26,000 to build our tiny house, but people have built similar tiny houses for much more and much less, depending on how they were sourcing their materials and the amount of building experience they have.

Alexander: That all depends on what lifestyle the person wants. You can be a minimalist and go without any electricity using wood stoves or propane for heat and candles and lanterns for light, and a basic yurt, cabin or other house style. Or, you can build a very high-tech green home with the latest Leed's sustainability guidelines, which can be very expensive.

Older homes can be remodeled for off-the-grid efficiency or there are many small off-grid cabin designs like mine that people can use and modify to fit their needs. The style of the house may be modest or expensive depending on what you want.

My cabin cost under $2,000 to build and about $5,000 for the off-grid system and I believe a smaller off-grid home under 400 square feet that is very efficient and also nice and comfortable to live in can be built for under $20,000, and much less if people are using recycled materials and doing the work themselves. Land, water and a power system are not included in that figure because they vary greatly depending on your needs, the area, and where you want to live.

Options for generating electricity

One option for electricity is to go without. Alexander explains that one quarter of the world’s homes do not have a grid electricity connection.

“People survived and thrived just fine before electricity came along,” he says, “and still can if you are willing to do things by hand and go without much of the entertainment that people think they need to survive.”

If going without is not an option, there are several options for generating electricity for an off-the-grid house, but solar is the most affordable. At approximately $1 per watt you can have an inexpensive system for basic power needs for under $5,000. Solar also works in cloudy conditions and snowy areas.

Wind is another option, but wind turbines are expensive and only work when the wind blows. If you have access to a river or stream, you could look into hydro power for generating some of your electricity.

Both Alexander and LaVoie advise doing a lot of research before you invest in anything. LaVoie recommends getting an energy meter before making any decisions to figure out what your electrical needs are. Alexander says the best tip he can give is to first study how you can greatly reduce your power consumption using more efficient appliances and non-power using appliances.

“Heat, cooling and refrigeration are the main power consumers in any house,” he explains, “so off-grid houses use wood stoves, propane heat, fans, passive cooling and alternative power fridges to take those appliances out of the system. Once you eliminate those appliances from your power needs,” he continues, “you can use a very small solar system for everything else.”

Alexander’s current system is 580 watts solar, a 400 watt wind turbine, and propane for heating and cooking with a wood stove back-up. He does passive cooling with fans, porches, overhangs and trees, and refrigeration is done using a converted freezer run off solar.

How to get water

Finding a water source is one of those things that you’re going to want to research before you buy land. Most counties require an approved source such as a city water connection, a professionally drilled well, or a cistern tank with a delivery system. Drilling a well can be expensive, so find out what your options are. Hand-drilled, shallow wells and rainwater catchment can be used for agricultural purposes, but these generally don’t meet county codes.

Alexander, who has a hand-drilled well and a 300 foot deep Artesian well, warns that if you’re using rainwater to supplement household usage, it must be filtered and treated to make it safe for consumption. He explains that giardia is a “real problem” with rain water but it is safe for washing clothes and flushing toilets.

LaVoie counts herself lucky that the land they bought has a running spring. She adds that you can also purchase water, but cautions that the costs begins to add up. She says that the thing that she is the most proud of is their conservation of water.

“The average American household can use over 200 gallons of water a day depending on the number of people in the home,” she says. “In our tiny house, Matt and I use a total of five gallons a day, not including drinking water. We have an air pressurized shower sprayer that holds two gallons of hot water and is plenty to ensure that we are clean.” She adds that one of the biggest culprits for water use in a traditional household is flushing the toilet.

The lowdown on the toilet

Outhouses are a proven solution for dealing with human excrement, but composting toilets offer a solution that can be brought indoors, have all the comforts of the modern toilet, and are allowed in many rural areas. Another solution is a conventional septic tank or, where allowed, a leach pond.
Alexander and LaVoie both recommend the book The Humanure Handbook: a Guide to Composting Human Manure by Joseph C. Jenkins for getting the facts about all things poop. LaVoie uses a dry composting, sawdust toilet that she describes as “easy to manage.” She adds that there are commercially available composting systems, but they can get pricey. Alexander designed and built a solar enhanced composting toilet that keeps the microbes at a higher temperature so they work faster to compost the waste.

“If you eliminate gray water from your tank,” he says, “you do not need a leach field and there is nothing left over but some dry composted material when the process is complete.” The plans for his toilet are in his book Off the Grid.

How to handle garbage, recycling, mail, internet

Another question that arises is, if you’re off-the-grid, how do you deal with details such as garbage, recycling, mail and internet. The consensus here is to use the local dump for garbage and recycling and set up a P.O. box or a mailbox at a UPS store if there’s one nearby, or just use a mailbox on the road.

Having a life with less stuff and more experiences is a big driver of the tiny house movement.
There are other options as well. Most household waste can be composted or incinerated in rural areas. Alexander explains that most rural people have an incinerator barrel and what is left over is hauled off occasionally. He adds that the key is reusing or repurposing everything possible.

“Everything gets recycled at my place,” he says, “and all wood and metal is held on to for other projects or sent to the scrap yard for someone else to use.”

Internet access is available through a cell phone hotspot or a satellite system. If T.V. is a must-have, satellite T.V. works everywhere and with Internet access, you can get Netflix, Hulu etc.

The big picture on tiny, off-the-grid living

The big picture takeaway on becoming an off-the-grid tiny houser is that there are countless possibilities when it comes to building a home that's right for you. Making the move requires a big, hands-on commitment, but it’s a lifestyle change that, according to LaVoie, can be personally fulfilling.

“I think it is especially important for everyone to recognize that there isn't one right way to live simply or off-grid,” she says. “Tiny house living shouldn't be viewed as a competition or that someone is doing it better than anyone else. The most important thing is to live in a way that is comfortable for you.” She adds, “Always make sure you enjoy the adventure.”

Cat JohnsonCat Johnson wrote this article for Shareable, where it originally appeared. Cat is a freelance writer focused on community, the commons, sharing, collaboration and music. Publications include Utne Reader, GOOD, Shareable, Triple Pundit, and Lifehacker.
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Free online course: The Science of Happiness

We all want to be happy, and there are countless ideas about what happiness is and how we can get some. But not many of those ideas are based on science. That’s where this course comes in.

“The Science of Happiness” is a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives.
Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course zeroes in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.
What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.
The course will include:
  • Short videos featuring the co-instructors and guest lectures from top experts on the science of happiness;
  • Articles and other readings that make the science accessible and understandable to non-academics;
  • Weekly “happiness practices”—real-world exercises that students can try on their own, all based on research linking these practices to greater happiness;
  • Tests, quizzes, polls, and a weekly “emotion check-in” that help students gauge their happiness and track their progress over time;
  • Discussion boards where students can share ideas with one another and submit questions to their instructors.
Instructors Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner Instructors Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner
The course will be led by two celebrated teachers from the Greater Good Science Center: Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., the GGSC’s science director, and GGSC founder Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., who is a psychology professor at UC Berkeley and author of the best-selling book Born to Be Good. It will also feature guest presentations by some of the world’s leading authorities on positive psychology, including Rick Hanson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Students will be able to proceed through this course at their own pace. However, students who participate between September 9 (the course’s launch date) and November 4 will have more opportunities to interact with instructors and fellow students. “The Science of Happiness” is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), hosted on the edX platform, meaning that it will enroll students from all over the world. Though there are many opportunities for students to interact within the course, the opportunities for live interaction with the instructors are limited.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Living in Harmony: Inspiring Stories from Ecovillages

The manual “LIVING IN HARMONY: INSPIRING STORIES FROM ECOVILLAGES” is designed as a virtual tour of European ecovillages. Here you will find a collection of short ‘how we did it’ stories that describe different ecovillage models and the main elements of their design and governance. The stories represent the most interesting and effective best practice to be found in the ecovillage movement in Europe, particularly in the Baltic Sea region.

The manual consists of four chapters. Each chapter explores a different stage of the ecovillage life cycle, starting from the establishment stage, when the main characteristics of the ecovillage should be decided, and finishing with the stage when the community becomes stable, has its own traditions and well-functioning governance, and can become a center proliferating knowledge about the ecovillage movement, based on its own experiences.

This life cycle approach helps us to understand the specific problems faced by the ecovillage and gives new founders a sense of perspective, because ecovillages go through different lifecycle stages just as people do. As a baby’s life is different from a teenager’s life, the challenges that a new ecovillage faces are usually markedly different from the challenges being met by older ecovillages.

The ideal ecovillage does not exist. However, thousands of partial successful solutions do exist. Learn from the experience of existing ecovillages and design your own model that is the most suitable for you.

If you are looking for particular solutions, please feel free to treat the chapters of the book as Lego bricks: read the paragraphs covering specific topics you are interested in and select the solutions that best fit your needs and values.

The manual “INSPIRING STORIES FROM ECOVILLAGES: EXPERIENCES WITH ECOLOGICAL TECHNOLOGIES AND PRACTICES” presents a selection of inspiring stories about solutions for ecological living. These stories are told by the inhabitants of ecovillages around the Baltic Sea region. They present solutions to issues concerning planning, construction, energy solutions, waste and waste water management, composting and recycling, food production, and transport and commuting. They provide inspiration to readers already familiar with ecovillages and anyone willing to learn more about a variety of ecological living solutions.

The collection of examples and stories of technologies and practices presented is designed to cover essential themes and aspects relevant to ecologically sustainable ways of living:
  • Planning and design of the ecovillage area
  • Building
  • Energy solutions for households and settlements
  • Waste water management
  • Dry toilets
  • Composting, recycling and ecological consumption
  • Food production
  • Transport and commuting
“Inspiring Stories from Ecovillages: Experiences with Ecological Technologies and Practices” seeks to enable the reader to form a tangible and – hopefully – inspiring view of the Baltic Sea region ecovillages’ variety, particularities and creative innovativeness, on the one hand, and similarities, familiarity and respect for tradition on the other.

The manual is also written in a way that does not presuppose any previous knowledge or firsthand experience of the issues involved. Thus, the manual can also reach out more widely as a source of inspiration to anyone interested in searching for ecological solutions to housing and living issues, wherever they live.

Ecovillage road is a virtual network, which aims to gather valuable knowledge created by the Ecovillage Movement and to make it accessible to a broader public.
We invite you to use this great possibility of Ecovillage road network and gain more knowledge on sustainable living, by visiting and learning from ecovillages of the Baltic Sea Region.
If you are an ecovillage or eco-project and you have valuable ideas, services or products to offer to a broader public, we invite you to use the possibility and join Ecovillage road!