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How an award winning elementary school teacher is solving environmental equations using the bicycle

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
 Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
When I wrote, “How the bicycle can drive green development on planet Earth” last year in March 2015, my hope was to raise awareness and encourage a few bicycle enthusiasts to further promote the use of the most efficient tool ever designed by the human mind and hand. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that this blog would inspire an environmental education teacher who teaches grades K-5, Jenna Shea Mobley, from Springdale Park Elementary School in Atlanta to use the material presented in the blog as the impetus for her project that went on to receive the 2015 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators!
In her interdisciplinary curriculum design she combined lessons from science and math to help students focus on the effects of pollution and the human footprint on the environment. Math allowed her students to use multiplication and division to solve word problems and create models to form equations that represented the problem. I must admit, as a teacher, I like to dream big from time to time, but I would have never dreamt of integrating math, science and a pinch of social science into lessons that used the bicycle for children in third grade.
Ms. Mobley’s curriculum also included a component that encouraged social action.  Her students were encouraged to write letters to Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, asking him to reduce air pollution around Atlanta.

Most of us who blog put our thoughts into writing after our normal work hours have ended. Often our weekends are lost to the time that it takes to write a blog that we hope will make a difference for the betterment of mankind.
Besides being a blogger, I am also an educator and former member of the Polish Olympic Cycling Team. Given that perspective, I understand very well what it takes to design a project that does not come from a textbook or an instructor’s manual. There is something special about teachers. They know that if they can make a project work, another teacher may emulate it in his/her classroom without ever recognizing who created it in the first place. However, when an innovative project fails, the students, parents, and perhaps even the principal will let the teacher know right away where they’ve fallen short. Still, there are many of us out there, who— no matter the risk— will seize the opportunity to enhance the classroom experience of our students.
Ms. Mobley and Springdale Park Elementary
The multitalented Ms. Mobley, I have learned, is an avid bicycle enthusiast who loves to explore the Virginia Highlands on her bike, and she consistently encourages her students to use the velocipede, too. She is also passionate about music and photography. One of Ms. Mobley’s colleagues, Ms. Elizabeth Chalpan, believes that, “She is doing tremendous work of preparing young global citizens who respect and care for the earth. Each July, Jenna is the first staff member to arrive back to school to begin the academic year to prepare the garden for the 700 students who will soon be back to care for it. Springdale Park’s “green” mission makes our school unlike any other, and Jenna is the face behind the mission.”
Springdale Park Elementary (SPARK) where Ms. Mobley teaches is quite unique. It is part of Atlanta's Public Schools, and it embodies environmental responsibility in everything from its green-friendly construction to innovative classroom learning. Students participate in recycling and composting, as well as a farm-to-school program in which food is grown and harvested on both the school’s roof-top and land-based gardens. In 2010 and 2011, SPARK received a platinum award from the Governor of Georgia’s Office of Student Achievement. The current Principal: Ms. Yolanda C. Brown stands firmly behind the mission statement of her school: “We are cultivating a community of innovative thinkers with a commitment to personal, environmental, and social responsibility where a love for learning is inspired by passionate student-focused teaching, based on the highest standards for academic excellence and creativity.” 
Importance of educators who care
As teachers, we constantly seek ways to encourage our students through positive reinforcement and innovations that we hope will help them to stay balanced and moving in the right direction. Cycling is a unique activity in that it has the potential to stimulate us physically as well as intellectually.
When we think of the Brookings Institution, not many of us would readily think that a third-grade teacher would be tapping into all-Brookings priorities for her students, including the study of growth through innovation, opportunity and well-being, sound energy and climate policy, and how to manage global change. To see primary school teachers utilizing the knowledge from think tanks such as Brookings to enrich a student’s classroom experience should cause us to look forward with optimism to the forthcoming national priority of STEM education which is often linked to a nation’s future economic prosperity. Policymakers at every level must be aware that new educational successions are coming, and they are coming from within.
As someone who was fortunate enough to have had great teachers in primary school, I fully appreciate the value of Ms. Mobley’s efforts to inspire her students, and I applaud her innovative approach to teaching. It is clear that she believes in the importance of giving children the opportunity to discover their own individual passions and interests so that they will become productive thinkers and contributors as they mature.
It’s paramount in higher education that before, during, and after a Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation and completion of study that he/she be advised by someone who is a not just a great scholar, but also a renowned member of academia. Yet, it may even be more crucial for a student to have had a passionate, positive, and professional primary school teacher who took the time to initiate the process. It is those teachers in the primary grades who I feel are our society’s unsung heroes. Day in and day out they must teach not only the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic; they must also instill in children a life-long love for learning and promote the fundamental educational survival skills and habits necessary for the challenges of the 21st Century. In many cases it is the effectiveness of those teachers that determines how youth will perceive the boundless kingdom of education. Unfortunately, this is not a secret of Polichinelle! The question for every educational institution specializing in pedagogy should be: “How can we train, attract, keep, and amplify the gifts of young people like Ms. Mobley within the system? How can we support them and make them feel that their work is not being done in a vacuum or without appreciation?”

Springdale Park, an Eco Friendly School

Way to go, Ms. Mobley!
Ms. Mobley’s work was recognized in a White House Ceremony and she was given a prestigious award from the United States Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Let me be transparent and tell you one reason why this story is important to me. Moments before I was blessed to have discovered the article about her award, I felt like I was at one of the lowest points of my teaching career. I had had a bad day at school, and I was in need of miracle to cheer me up. I needed something special to rekindle my passion and renew my inspiration. It came in the form of an article about Ms. Mobley and her students. It was this discovery that delivered the impetus I needed to be brought out of my doldrums. Indeed, I am grateful as it provided me with a very tangible ray of hope.
When teachers try to solve environmental equations through that “freedom machine,” we call the bicycle, the potential is there for a great number of students to become not just recipients of a creative endeavor but also beacons of creativity who will multiply such educational miracles over and over into the future.

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Submitted by Olatomiwa M. Adesulu on

What a great,inspiring and innovative work by Mrs Mobley. A good work welldone to her. Wish her more great and wonderful days on earth.

Submitted by Courtney Disonglo on

This teacher is wonderful and amazing teaching the younger generations to be involved in helping the planet and inspiring them to become bicycle enthusiasts. Thank you Ms.Mobley!

Submitted by Angelo Bianchini on

This is a great story on how teachers work with students. What better way to ensure a healthy environment in the future than to teach the future inhabitants of the planet.

Submitted by Aj Harrison on

That's amazing, what a great role model for the children at Springdale elementary! Cycling can do so much more than just transportation. It can help global change and therefore we should have a world bicycle day!

Submitted by Nancy Le on

Teaching is not about fitting the unique ideas and perspectives of students into boxes that fit what the curriculum askes for but rather it is about shaping their ideas and raising them to reach their full potential. It is educators like Ms. Mobley who are essential to our educational system because she actually likes her job and cares enough about her students to teach them how to be street smart as well as book smart! Her students will thrive and hopefully others who read this article will too, for her approach by incorporating mathematics and science with everyday objects like the bicycle is amazing and encouraging.

Submitted by Genevive on

Every motivating article...that teaches us to move forward. I like how she incorporate bicycle into her study. It show that even the smallest matter can make a big difference.

Submitted by Michelle Lopez on

Not only can the bicycle be used for riding, but it can inspire so many people like Ms. Mobley. She used it to inspire her students to think about a greener earth. Ms. Mobleys innovative way shows how teachers can make assignments fun and revlant to what going on. She did a great job of combing the bicycle and math and promoting a healthier greener environment. Bicycles are so versatile and should be celebrated! #worldBicycleDay

Submitted by Rosemary Jones on

Wow what an inspiration to students and teachers globally! The thought of going a greener approach in teaching to teach students not only about math but about the environment is such a smart way to teach students about the world we live in. I definitely support her idea and agree that she is an inspiration to all!

Submitted by Daniel B on

After reading this and watching the video, I thought Ms. Mobley was very inspiring!

Submitted by Andy Roman on

What an amazing story. Congrats to ms. Mobley for winning the award and showing us how the bicycle can be used for so much more. Teachers like her are what we need more of everyday

Submitted by Lisa D. on

Thank you for sharing this inspiring and positive story of how talented educators are giving of themselves to inspire our youth. It is also encouraging to hear how in an unexpected way, you were lifted by the Holy Spirit in a time of self-doubt and need.

Submitted by Peter Yuen on

This is very intriguing, if you could imagine that all of our teachers and professors were like this, "care a bit more on the students success in society." Then I could only imagine how much everyone and everything could've changed, teachers who can make an impact on the young ones, can easily change the paths in which they would like to proceed, "a better life!"

Submitted by Dayanne Pareja on

Who would have thought that a simple plan of action would lead to so much success. Right now i hope to successfully promote world bicycle day with my sociology class. I have never done anything like this and if feel good knowing that when you truly put effort into something it will be recognized and it will be all worth it at the end:)

Submitted by Marlena T. on

I feel like most teachers just teach. I feel as if they should do more like inspire their students. Teachers and professors such as Ms. Mobley and Professor Sibilski are perfect examples of inspiring educators that want to do more for their students than just teach them the basics of a subject. Teachers like them assist students in applying their own education to society and for the public good. I do not think students realize what they are capable of, but the project that Ms. Mobley and her class did set an amazing example of just what students can be capable of.

Submitted by Victoria Amaguana on

It's inspiring to see kids learning in different ways every day. It makes me wonder about all the amazing things I can do with thinking out of the box. This hit me in a personal spot because I adore children and one day hope to be a pediatric OT. I hope I can think out of the box just as Ms. Mobley was able to!

Submitted by Karen Reyes on

Its beautiful to see how a teacher can make such a difference!! It doesn't matter how old the students are, teachers do make a difference in this world. Wonderful article.

Submitted by Vanessa Llontop on

What a great article. You never know how much of an impact one can make. A lot of times we think that we can't really make an impact because we are just one person, but look at this teacher. We all add up, but it has to start somewhere. I'm glad to see someone out there doing great things that are impacting others around!

Submitted by Chandler Tucker on

Great article! It's great to see that anyone can make such a difference. Bicycles are something of the past that is truly meant for the future! Having a bicycle will help with all of our environmental issues for sure!

Submitted by Jimmy Rodriguez on

It's incredible to think that this women was able to enhance her lesson plan by using an article about the bicycle! She has changed the game forever. Children learning this way could shape more creative and innovative future adults. It's creating our of the box thinkers!

Submitted by Marilyn Hernandez on

This is a great article. I love how Ms. Mobley was able to make a difference. Education is the key to the world it can open up doors to many things. The environment is also important and it's great to combine education and environment together!

Submitted by Happy on

Nice work by Mrs wobley. This is very innovative as an idea. I would have personally not thought of doing that.

Submitted by Joshua Trejos on

Ms. Mobley is a very inspiration women. She is addressing a serious global problem and by introducing it to the younger generation, she is plotting a seed that will grow as the child grows. The early years is the most influential part in ones life, and it's important to introduce it.

Submitted by Maksim Korobtchenko on

Sounds like Ms.Mobley knows what she is doing. It's hard to believe that her work was inspired by the White House that's really a huge accomplishment, way to go. Keep up the good work and hopefully she will inspired again in the future.

Submitted by My Phan on

Getting children aware of environmental issues and solutions to it is extremely important not only to individuals in the class but also spreading it to lives they touches through out their life. As a teacher of elementary school student in Vietnam, I will definitely use her idea and experience it with my students. It will be an important lesson on something so global from a country that is rapidly urbanizing.

Submitted by Ioanna Galani on

This article describes an amazing story! I would never think that someone can promote social action through this way. Ms. Mobley should be a role model for every teacher, because teachers are like our second mothers. They help us to form who we are!

Submitted by Jennifer Umanzor on

Incorporating bicycles in learning is such an original and good idea. Something so simple but yet so impactful. Teaching starts at home and bicycle riding is something a student can take home with them. You know what they say "You never forget how to ride a bike" and teaching something that someone will never forget is so important.

Submitted by Adoni Louis on

Thank you for sharing this awesome article, I have value the experience to be in your sociology class everyweek to learn and be inspired. Thank for the experience and keep doing it because it will pay on the long run.

Submitted by Elisia George on

It takes great creativity to use a bicycle to transfer the concept of Maths. My hats off to you Ms. Mobley! Your students will never forget this experience. Not only did you receive this award, they did also.

Submitted by Kimberly Ampuero on

Ms. Mobley is such a spectacular teacher! What she is teaching these kids is how all kids should be taught so the world can be a better tomorrow. Keep up the amazing work Ms. Mobley!

Submitted by jane berke on

This article and Jenna's dedication are both so inspiring. I am floored by the ingenuity and will share this with the staff at my grandchildren's elementary school.

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