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Blog post of the month: How an award winning elementary school teacher is solving environmental equations using the bicycle

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In April 2016, the featured blog post is "How an award winning elementary school teacher is solving environmental equations using the bicycle" by Leszek Sibilski.

“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.

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.

#Richmond2015: A meaningful reunion

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Leszek Sibilski (center), Jan Zak, and Adam
Baloniak, 1974 Championship of Poland.

“Some die too young, some die too old; the precept sounds strange, but die at the right age.”Friedrich Nietzsche
 
What would you do if were a young and restless teenage boy in communist Poland in the early 1970s? Join one of the communist youth organizations or serve as an altar boy? There were not too many options for extracurricular activities fitting my temperament and boundless energy besides sports such as soccer, boxing, track and field, or cycling. At that time the Polish road cyclists were untouchable in May’s Peace Race. I opted for cycling with quick signs of a bright future. I came in third at the national youth games in a time trial with less than 12 months of training, and the first track national title a year later with more to follow.
 
History demonstrates that during the Cold War, sport was as much an arena of competition between socialist states as it was between the capitalist and communist worlds. We were competing hard against anybody, but during the so-called Friendship Games, the unofficial championships of the Warsaw Pact, we became ruthless gladiators of our millennial Polish pride.  Poland’s geopolitical as well as geographical location was, and always will be, between Germany and Russia, and at that time, the Soviet Union (USRR) and East Germany (GDR) bordered us. Both of these esteemed giants frequently went about conquering and changing Poland’s geopolitical landscape.  Thus, winning a medal at the World Championships was great, but winning a medal at the Friendships was something special. I earned two silvers in 1976, and they are still very precious to me.

When competing against teams from capitalist states the expectation was that we were representing the victorious socialist system, but as teenagers we were not thinking about that at all. We were able to observe the differences of what was going on behind the Iron Curtain and share them with our peers and families. In fact, from a temporal perspective, I think we were agents of change by emulating the looks, fashion, and behavior of young people from the West, and although we frequently traveled abroad, our passports were routinely deposited in the offices of the Ministry of Interior.

We, the people, for the global bicycle momentum

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.” - Mark Twain
 
Have you ever wondered what happened to once commonplace items such as the abacus, the slide rule, the hourglass, or the quill; not to mention, VHS recorders, CD cassette players, and more recently, address and telephone books? They all met the same fate: they were replaced by modern technological innovations such as calculators, electronic watches, ballpoint pens, and computers. And what happened to the bicycle? It has been with us for over 200 years, and by some estimates, there are more than two billion bikes in use around the world and by 2050 this number could reach five billion. Over fifty percent of the human population can ride a bike. The bicycle is a veteran and mainstay of human mobility. Even competitive riders pay respect to the utility of bicycles outside grand tours. One of them, Ted King predicted: “Bicycles have the potential to save the world. There’s so much that a bicycle can do, from an environmental standpoint, from a health standpoint, and their social impact.” 
 
Amid the recent surge in global popularity of cycling - in sport, in leisure and in urban commuting - two presenters of Italian RAI2 radio believe that the Nobel Peace Prize should go to the bicycle. The presenters of the popular Caterpillar program describe bikes as an "instrument of peace". They say the bike "is the most democratic means of transport available to humanity". Proponents have also used the example of Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali, who during World War II ferried counterfeit documents by bike to save Jews, as an example of how the cycle has aided in "liberation and resistance". Additionally, 118 Italian Members of Parliament have also officially nominated the Afghan Cycling Federation women's team for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. They hail the bicycle as environmental, economic, and democratic.
 
In November 2015, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), in collaboration with the World Cycling Alliance (WCA), announced their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to the UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who called for voluntary commitments from civil society to tackle climate change. In “Cycling Delivers on the Global Goals” the direct impact of cycling can be demonstrated on at least 11 of the 17 Global Goals. Recent research presented in “A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario” by UC Davis firmly concludes: “The results show that a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save society $24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11% in 2050 compared to a ‘High Shift’ scenario without a strong cycling emphasis.”
 
The global community of cycling enthusiasts celebrates, even worships, the loyalty of the freedom machine to humanity by organizing events all over the world. However, well- intentioned or -organized, all these remain out of sync with very diversified agendas. After over two centuries of stellar service to humankind, we, the people, believe that the bicycle deserves an official annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations, and preceded by the International Year of Bicycle Awareness and Education of Cycling for All.

Why is there no world day for the bicycle?

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Peter Golkin riding his bike to Arlington County Public Library“My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.”- Peter Golkin
 
Luckily for Peter Golkin, he gets his two favourite things everyday, as he rides his bike to work at Arlington Public Library. Millions of others like him benefit from using the bike as a form of transport, improving their health, reducing pollution, and saving money for themselves and society in the process.
 
Despite these benefits, the benefit of the bike to society is not recognised in many countries, or internationally. As a first step, the bicycle deserves an official annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations.
 
The humble bicycle has played second fiddle to the car for far too long: research published last year showed that not only could cycling cut a tenth of transport emissions of carbon dioxide, but more people cycling would cumulatively save cities across the world $25 trillion from 2015 to 2050 by reducing the need for expensive roads and public transport. 
 

Figure 18 compares the total cost across all transportation modes in a 2015 High Shift Cycling (HSC) scenario, the current HSC scenario, and the business as usual (BAU) scenario. 

Global cyclists say NO to carbon - opt for CDM

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bikes in Ghana“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” - John F. Kennedy
 
From cradle to grave …

Currently, two billion bicycles are in use around the world. Children, students, professionals, laborers, civil servants and seniors are pedaling around their communities. They all experience the freedom and the natural opportunity for exercise that the bicycle easily provides.

That number could rise to as many as five billion bicycles by 2050, especially with the development of the electric bike that we are seeing worldwide. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike, and the annual production of bicycles is now over 100 million per year. In comparison, car production is currently at about 60 million units per year.

The bicycle is unique and deserves to be given a focus by the global community that it surprisingly has not yet received.

This is especially true of politicians who often underestimate the power of voters who take their freedom to pedal very seriously. City planners also need to be aware of how the bicycle contributes to decreased congestion and improved urban livability worldwide. There are, however, some wonderful exceptions such as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, Rome mayor, Ignazio Marino, Taipei mayor, Ko Wen-je, the 108th Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, Paris mayor, Anne Hildalgo, Rio de Janeiro mayor, Eduardo Paes, and former Washington DC mayor, Adrian Fenty who recognize the importance of incorporating bikes into city planning.

Many countries and cities already share best practices on how to become more cycling friendly. A process that the European Cyclists’ Federation and World Cycling Alliance is heavily engaged in, which recently lead to the EU ministers of Transport agreeing in a groundbreaking “declaration on cycling as a climate friendly transport mode” at a meeting in Luxembourg in early October 2015.

The former mayor of Munich, Christian Ude once said, "Do we want people in leading positions that are too scared to cross a city center on a bicycle? Of course not.  Let cyclists get at it!”  Cyclists – as citizens - tend to be a very organized and active group with bulk voting power that could be unleashed at any time to advocate for global policy change.

Women and bicycles - the solution for those left behind in the wake of the Mediterranean human tsunami

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Also available in: العربية

The entire world is hypnotized by the struggle of the European continent with the rapidly escalating numbers of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Yet, only a handful reflect about the plight of those who stay behind, entangled in violence and persecution, or those who remain in refugee camps. Some believe those 'left behind' are the solution and saviors to the future of the Middle East and Africa, and one great way to help them is to give them bicycles.

//www.middleeasteye.net/news/women-yemen-peddle-right-bike-1871266777#sthash.4alYKG2m.dpuf“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” – Susan B. Anthony

In 2015 alone, the UN Refugee Agency reported that of the 520,957 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, 2,980 died or went missing. Eighteen percent of the migrants are children and 13% are women. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, an estimated 200,000 additional refugees are still planning to make the sea journey by the end of 2015. So, the seismic human waves are far from subsiding in the region.

Today, there are a series of internal and regional armed conflicts around the world, most of which are concentrated in two regions: the Middle East and Africa. The desperate attempts by so many Syrians to flee Assad regime’s and the Islamic state’s terror by escaping to security in Europe has caught the world’s attention. However, Syrians are not alone in deserving compassion. Although international interest in Afghanistan has waned and most foreign troops are gone, the war there is only getting worse. In addition, there is an influx of desperate refugees from Eritrea, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia, and Bangladesh who are just as entitled to refugee status as the others.

While humanity is being washed ashore in the Mediterranean Sea, the treacherous passage does not resemble a migration, but a human tsunami. The departing refugees and migrants leave a vacuum, as the most skilled, able-bodied, and educated keep leaving the continent, most of them are males.  This leaves females, elderly and disabled behind and entangled in the local violence. The families left behind often count on reuniting with their loved ones in the near future or hope to receive remittances to support their livelihoods as they try to rebuild their communities. 
 
What should the world do with these gutted societies? The global community should invest in women power, leadership opportunities for women, and in modifying the social order with regards to female emancipation on the continent. We must pay immediate attention and react with empathy and solidarity.
 

Football: A powerful platform to promote respect, equality, and inclusion!

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Also available in: العربية

Less than a year before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and over one month after the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, BC, I would like to share and focus my reflections on the Women’s World Cup, mostly emphasizing the social psychology and sociological milieu around the match as it was extensively covered by all media.

 FIFA Women's World Cup 2015“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou

In the past, I had the privilege of being present at multiple global sporting events around the world in many capacities, but I had never attended an event as a spectator until the final match between USA and Japan on Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium. Women’s sport is very close to my heart as I had the privilege of managing my daughter’s junior and collegiate tennis career for almost ten years. Nevertheless, I was very excited to find myself in a new role as a part of the overwhelmingly American crowd of 53,341. On that day, a golden haze from wildfires blanketed the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver, BC, perhaps due to the 16-year US winning drought at the Women’s World Cup! However, during the 90 minutes of playing time and finishing strong with a winning score of 5-2, the US team extinguished the flames within the boundaries of the football pitch substituting golden smog with flashy golden confetti, a golden trophy, and gold medals around their necks at the award ceremony.
 
This summer has seen North America pleasantly packed with global sporting events. First we had the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then the Pan-American and Parapan-American Games in Toronto. In between, there were the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, and coming in late September, the City of Richmond will be hosting the UCI Cycling Road Championships. One would wonder what these events have in common… The answer is relatively simple. In all of these events, female athletes play either the main role or a shared role as competitors. I am very cautious with the usage of the term “equal participation” as we hear some critics voicing their opinions. During and after the Women’s World Cup some complaints were raised about the artificial turf.  Others complained that the opposing teams were staying in the same hotel, and that offensive comments about player’s appearances had been made. There were also comments about paltry financial rewards for women athletes as compared to the Men’s World Cup.  But on the day of the final in the packed-to-the-brim BC Place, no one was thinking about these shortcomings.
 

Education Literally Saved My Life

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Track cyclists competeAs a former elementary secondary school teacher in Poland and as a current college educator in the United States, I have been exposed to many different approaches to educational or pedagogical methodology. However, I have always believed that education at its best is a combination of classroom, field, and real life experience.
 
Whenever I teach a sociology class, I depend not only on textbooks but on field trips, inviting outside speakers, engaging them in extracurricular activities, and nowadays harnessing social media as a teaching assistant. These activities enable students to learn things in a deeper way, and they feel a greater connection with the topic.
 
As a teacher, I firmly believe in second chances. I am also a seasoned realist. In addition to school, I also see family, religion, and peers or even neighbors as molding social institutions. I am fully aware that my work needs to be done in an atmosphere and willingness to constantly forgive and forget, especially when I deal with cases of pure innocence and immaturity.
 
This essay is a personal reflection that draws on my experience not only as an educator but also as a father, the husband of a math teacher, and son-in-law of two teachers. It also includes my role as teacher and mentor to the thousands students who have taken my sociology classes since I started my career in higher education. It is an essay intended to focus on one of the most important educational aspects in the lives of every human being; the life defining self-taught moments and experiences, which have the potential to abruptly shape our outlook, beliefs, and our set of ethical values.

On the road towards the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris

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Mayor of London Boris Johnson promotes bikeshare“Imagine if we could invent something that cut road and rail crowding, cut noise, cut pollution and ill- health – something that improved life for everyone, quite quickly, without the cost and disruption of new roads and railways. Well, we invented it 200 years ago: the bicycle.”Boris Johnson, Mayor of London 
 
This follow up reflection of my previous blog post has been encouraged and inspired by the enthusiastic response from the worldwide community of cyclists — individuals who depend on and use this very reliable mode of versatile transportation on a daily basis. At one point in the first 24 hours after it was published, the number of views to the initial blog post exceeded 1000 per hour, and it totaled over 200K views. The article has been adopted by the World Economic Forum Agenda Blog and even landed on the Facebook page of the United Nations, with great support from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and World Bicycle Relief. It has been translated into French and Spanish, and a German language version is in the works. The conclusion, based on comments that were made, was very clear: the world still loves the velocipede whether as a form of transport or as an Olympic sports event.
 
Union Cycliste Internationale President Brian CooksonIn response to the previous blog Brian Cookson, UCI President summed it up well with this reflection, “Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the world, but it’s also a mode of transport for millions, helping to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and keep people healthy. UCI wants to contribute to a future where everyone, regardless of age, gender, or disability gets the opportunity to ride and bike, whether as an athlete, for recreation, or for transport. In ten months’ time, the Paris climate talks will provide the final opportunity to plan for a sustainable future: cycling - a truly zero-carbon form of transport - must be part of the solution.”
 


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