Service learning is a powerful experience for students, and an important component of global education. Global education should be opening eyes and minds to justice and empathy. In service learning, students engage in the local or wider community while trying to make the world a better place. I’ve come up with this list of 18 service learning projects for classes and schools to bring service into the classroom.
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As our students learn more about kids around the world, these sorts of statistics can get personal: with greater familiarity about diverse settings, stories, and ways of life—especially if they start communicating with real people in new places—their sense of fairness emerges. With encouragement and guidance, greater awareness and connection prompts kids to want to do something about immediate crises, like natural disasters and the lack of books, or more systemic challenges, like access to education, water, and nutrition.
The most complete definition of global competency in my opinion is the EdSteps Global Competence Matrix (in partnership with the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning), comprised of four key ideas to be used at any level, in any subject area:
- Investigate the World
- Recognize Perspective
- Communicate Ideas
- Take Action
This final component- “Take Action-” is the capstone project, where students respond to the needs of their community (whether this means their local community, or the global community). This is where service learning comes in.
After writing the extremely popular list of 35+ service projects for kids, I have been repeatedly asked to come up with service learning projects for classes. Don’t miss the fist list of service projects– many of them would also work well for classes! The following service learning projects are well-suited for classrooms of various ages and subject matters. We have heard from a lot of teachers who run their school’s “Kindness Club,” or “Volunteer Club,” who have suggested many of the following ideas.
These service learning projects include certain essential elements:
- Related to Learning: they should stretch the kids cognitively.
- Authentic Service: they should meet a genuine need of the community they are serving.
- Student-Led: students should be involved with implementing and participating in the project.
Questions to Think About
Decide what type of charitable project best fits your objectives, values, preferences, and resource capacity:
- Will you be raising funds or collecting items to donate?
- Will the entire school participate or only certain grades, classes, or clubs?
- Would you like the organization you support to focus on a particular need? For example, collecting eyeglasses or sports equipment, building a well and learning about clean water initiatives, or raising money to fight hunger or to aid victims of a natural disaster.
- Is it important that causes or geography tie in to existing curricular priorities (e.g., if a grade is studying Mexico, do you want the service activity to take place there?), or will these choices be kept separate?
- If you are collecting items, will someone coordinate drop-off, storage, shipment, and payment for shipment to the intended recipients? This step often makes the collection of goods prohibitively more difficult than raising funds.
- How many adults (teachers or volunteers) are committed to the project, and how much time can they invest per week or per month? Make sure that expectations are aligned with human and financial resource capacity. If projects are overly ambitious, this could result in burnout or disappointment and not be repeated in future years. Starting small is often preferred, so schools can continue the project and go from strength to strength.
Finally, evaluate the charities. Guide Star offers users financial information and reviews from people familiar with the agency; Charity Navigator offers impartial evaluations on thousands of charitable organizations.
18 Service Learning Projects for Classes
1. Pulsera Project. The Pulsera Project is a nonprofit organization that educates, empowers, and connects Central American artists with students in more than 2,100 U.S. schools through the sale of colorful handwoven bracelets, or “pulseras” in Spanish.
2. Free Rice. Got 3 minutes left in class? Project this in front of your class. Choose which subject you’d like to be quizzed on, and then answer as many questions as you can. For each answer you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger. They even have quizzes in world languages! (Spanish, German, French, Italian and Latin!).
3. The Lunch Project. In Tanzania, many children go to school hungry. Children who are hungry struggle to stay awake and concentrate in school. A hot lunch during the school day means children will have at least one nutritious meal and will be better equipped to learn. Only nine cents provides supplies for one hot meal and $100 provides supplies for an entire school of 900 children to have lunch. Classes choose how to raise the money: whether through lemonade stands, dog walking, bake sales, sports tournaments, or any one of the many fundraising ideas that kids have come up with, they are making a difference in the world.
4. Kiva. Kiva is a non-profit, microfinancing organization. By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. First, read Beatrice’s Goat, by Paige McBrier or One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, by Kate Smith Milway. Both are TRUE stories, that talk about young children, who turn a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many.
5. Walk for Water. Lack of clean water is a prevailing problem in much of the underdeveloped world. Schools can hold a “walk for water” to raise money to buy a well, and use the activity to learn about the need for clean water with lessons such as these downloadable lessons from WE. Schools I’ve talked to hold the event outdoors, and have students get pledges for either how many steps, or how far they walk. One additional activity is to bring gallons of water for students to hold while walking, to a get a feeling for the difficulty kids and women around the world have to carry drinking water home.
6. Kid Knits. Through knitting the KidKnits hat, your students are helping to support 35 women in Rwanda and 16 women in Chile with employment and empowerment to better their lives. You purchase the fair trade yarn, while learning about the communities and women that produce the yarn. Kids learn to knit a hat, and can either keep it, or donate it.
7. Chemo Care Bags. This project was mentioned by a school, who had a student beat cancer. Fighting cancer was a cause that hit close to home for this class, and so they decided to make chemo care bags to donate to their local cancer hospital (MD Anderson in this case). The link provides examples of items needed in a chemo care bag.
8. Empty Bowls. This project requires some organizing and cooperating across departments. The art class will make soup bowls out of clay (or get donations of bowls). Families bring in pots of soup, and pay a set price ($5, or $10, or $20- whatever your community would pay) to eat a bowl of soup, and take home the bowl. The proceeds goes to fight local hunger problems.
9. Yuda Bands. Popular, handmade leather and carved coconut bracelets (called Yuda Bands) are sold in US high schools as a service project. It is led by a project leader, under the direction of a school council, a classroom, or club. Money raised from the sale of the $7 bracelet is used to send youth in developing nations to school.
10. Special Olympics. At one of the high schools where I worked, we had a club called PALS that would support our kids that participated in the Special Olympics (among many other things). They frequently attended basketball games, track meets, swim meets, etc, and manned water stations, cheered for the team, ran the concession stand, etc. One school’s track team has volunteered to run water stations at Special Olympics’ races.
11. Leveling the Playing Field. Kids can organize their own collection drives of used sports equipment at their schools or sports leagues. LPF will provide donation bins, marketing materials and hands-on assistance to any interested collector. Collectors will place donation bins, inventory equipment and hand out tax receipts to donors when requested.
12. Books for Africa. This is another organization that is collecting items, in this case books. As they state, “education is the great equalizer in the world, and books are at the foundation of a strong educational system. For many children in Africa, the gift of books truly is a gift of hope.” On a side note, my children’s school has a sister school in a neighborhood that is quite impoverished (in our city). Our student council has a book drive every year to help them build up their school library. We focus on collecting books that have main diverse characters, and also books in Spanish.
13. Translations for Head Start. One Spanish teacher mentioned a project I thought was really cool. She has her students translate the newsletter for their local Head Start (preschool) program. They have a community of many native Spanish speakers, and this opportunity helps both the parents and the students.
14. Conserve Water. This idea comes from National Geographic. Use this online tool to help start a school-wide campaign encouraging everyone to use less water. Get the word out with persuasive writing via posters or skits. Challenge your fellow students to a video public service announcement (PSA) contest. With drought conditions affecting many states, helping to save water in your community will be a step in the right direction.
15. Bikes for the World. Organizing a bike collection, keeps bikes out of landfills, and puts them into the hands of kids overseas. Kids are more likely to go to school when they have reliable transportation to get there.
16. Nothing But Nets. Did you know every 2 minutes, a child dies of malaria? But 6.8 million lives have been saved from malaria since 200 by using mosquito nets. “Nothing But Nets” works with UN partners to purchase life-saving bed nets and distribute them to families. Schools have come up with incredible fundraisers in order to buy mosquito nets such as partnering with basketball teams to donate a portion of the ticket price, holding sports tournaments, or even the hilarious dorm from Notre Dame who cuts hair for a $10 donation during their “Mullets Against Malaria” program.\
17. Meatless Mondays. We know that eating more plant-based meals is good for the planet. Schools around the country are organizing and promoting meatless Mondays as a simple way that families and cafeterias can support out environment. Meatless Monday projects demonstrates commitment to student health, presents a leadership role in promoting sustainable food, and fosters collaboration between students, teachers and foodservice staff.
18. Sleep Out/ Homeless Challenge/ One Night without a Home. Definitely more suited for high schoolers, students sleep outside for one night. Sleep outs simulate just a small part of those experiences, but teach the participants that homelessness is more than statistics or stereotypes. Homelessness has many causes, many obstacles, and many faces. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an opportunity for people around the country to join together and bring political and social attention to the impacts of mass poverty and homelessness.
19. Sole Hope. The class collects used jeans, and cuts out pieces of the recycled jeans that will be used to make shoes for kids in Uganda, preventing infections from jiggers that live in the sand. When you purchase your kit with the stencils and instructions, you get a DVD that teaches kids all about the project, and the importance of shoes. My kids really learned a lot from this one!
Volunteering and service projects help teach kids empathy and instill compassion- two essential traits of little world citizens! I hope that this list has inspired you, and perhaps helped you generate even more ideas of service learning projects for classes! Please leave additional projects in the comments, and I will add them as I get them. Remember that when you work with your students, consider even simple acts of kindness like Valentine’s cards for seniors or protein bars for our armed services. Teaching our students about empathy and generosity is giving them the soft skills to make the world a better place.