students also developed presentation
skills when they presented their project
at the state and national service learning
conferences in 2010.
Julie and Saige’s literacy campaign demonstrates how high-quality
service learning combines engagement
with academic skill development. So
although it may seem like the testing
train and the service learning trolley
are headed in opposite directions, a
focused approach to service learning
can get both vehicles on the same track.
See “Projects That Support Literacy
Learning” for more ideas for projects in
which students can use literacy skills to help others.
success. And the academic connections
were abundant. Students used a host
of geometrical concepts: perimeter,
surface area, volume, similarity, ratio,
proportion, scale drawings, properties
of shapes, and angle measures.
Students can also incorporate economics and math in projects that focus
on developing and selling a product.
Karin Gratz, a Lead to Succeed program
consultant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
worked with high school students to
design and sell custom rain barrels. In
the fall, students gathered data on the
benefits of rain barrels. In the spring,
Math and Service Learning
When Kathy Phillips’s
high school math classes
at Inola High School in
Inola, Indiana, researched,
designed, and built kiosks
for the school’s outdoor
classroom walking trail,
Phillips noticed a difference
in her students’ learning.
“Students who could not
understand precision when
taught in the classroom
from the book truly understood the concept when we
were building the kiosks,”
In another class, students
used their geometry skills
to address the problem of
hunger locally by building
raised vegetable gardens.
Partnering with other
classes (a science class
grew the seedlings) and the
churches, and local orga-
nizations provided garden
space and made sure that
the vegetables were dis-
tributed to those in need)
contributed to students’
they designed and decorated rain
barrels that they sold to residents, busi-
nesses, and community organizations.
Proceeds from such projects can be
used to further the student-run business
or be donated to a cause related to
the project. (In the case of the rain
barrel project, proceeds were donated
to the International Water Resources
Projects That Support Literacy Learning
n Practice reading a book and then read it to a younger
child, a senior citizen, or someone learning English.
n Read a book that will teach you how to do something
to help others—and then do it! (For example, build a birdhouse, make toys for animals at the animal shelter, or plant
n Make an alphabet book to give to a young child or donate
to parents with a newborn baby through the local hospital.
n Make vocabulary books for students learning English.
n Be a “secretary” for someone who has difficulty writing
(someone with a disability or illness). Ask whether the
person would like to dictate a letter to a family member or
n Coordinate a book drive to collect new and used books in
excellent condition for children who do not have access to
many books (children living in poverty or disaster areas, a
local Head Start program, or a shelter).
n Review the books in the school or local library that are
about one or more ethnic groups. Recommend removing
books with stereotypical or outdated content and replacing
them with newer, more positive books. Hold a story hour
featuring the new books or create a display in the library.
n Hold a used book sale at the school or the local library and
donate the funds raised to a worthy cause.
n Organize a weekly or monthly story hour at a nursing
home, day-care center, hospital school, library, or low-income housing area.
Principles for Project
Whether teachers choose to
develop a literacy-oriented
activity or a project that
makes use of students’ math
skills, the same essential
principles apply. Teachers
can ensure that their service
learning projects attend to
both students’ learning and
relevant community needs
by answering the following
n What skills or
knowledge do I want my
students to learn or use?
n Who in our community
needs these skills and
knowledge or could benefit
from my students’ use of
these skills and knowledge?
n How can students use
their skills or knowledge to
Let’s say you are a 5th
grade teacher who wants
your students to develop and
practice the skill of identifying the main idea in a