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What are the best service learning activities that promote learning as well as community service?

Nancy Gallavan

I like organizing service learning activities that showcase powerful learning and the expanding horizons of social studies education. I start with topics and issues that young learners can easily recognize and make connections such as litter, recycling, street signs, beautification, book availability, etc. Then I expand to community agencies, individuals who would benefit from assistance, etc., and learning about adjacent neighborhoods, the city, state, nation, etc. I follow the theme of "Thinking Globally; Acting Locally."

It is essential that service learning belongs to the learners throughout its LIFE:

  • Lumination (picture: lightbulbs filled with ideas),
  • Intention (involvement in planning sessions),
  • Facilitation (fulfilling the activities), and
  • Evaluation (review and reflection).

Too often, adults get overly excited about the learning, "take charge," and learners and learning are no longer the primary objectives.

Here are some examples:

  • I helped start a recycling center at our school. We created bins for sorting the papers, cans, bottles, and plastics. We contacted the city waste management services and coordinated pick-up schedules.

  • I helped a school collect new children's books to give to another school. This project was challenging as the parents wanted to take charge. The principal and I were dedicated to ensuring that the learners organized and managed the entire project.

  • My students collected 1,000,000 soda can tabs. We read the book How Much is a Million? Then we collected the tabs integrating math into the count. This project took three years, required my basement as a storage area, and necessitated a truck for delivering the tabs to the recycling center at the end of the project. Then students from all three years accompanied me to the Ronald McDonald Center where we donated the money.