Lifestyle Project Journals and Assessment

Initial Publication Date: June 1, 2007


Students keep track of their activities by keeping a journal, which becomes the basis for assessing their performance in the project. Students make one entry for or each day they participate in project activities, keeping track of what they do in each of their three categories. Journals should contain a fairly detailed accounting of the actions they took during the day, as well as their reactions to what they had to do to meet the project requirements. For example, after making it through an entire day without producing any garbage, there will certainly be a story to tell. There will be tales of roommates sneaking the thermostat upward, the irresistible urge to jump in the car, the over-wrapped cheeseburger narrowly avoided, and the triumph of a five-minute shower.

A student writes in a journal while sitting outdoors
Students are encouraged to make the journals themselves eco-friendly, so they are often e-mailed, written on the back sides of scrap paper, or constructed entirely of materials that were destined for the landfill.

Journals are due at the end of each week. When reviewing journal entries, provide plenty of feedback, encouragement, ideas, corrections and answers to questions. This periodic feedback is essential to keep the class motivated and on a course toward continual improvement.

You may discover amazing things through students' journals, as the students are often willing to share the personal sides of their lives. Because this project requires students to account for their habits and actions throughout the day, you may find yourself reading about details such as how they managed to cut the length of their shower in half, what they ate for breakfast, their anxiety about riding the bus, and their pride in making it through an entire day without making one scrap of garbage.

As students share their private sides, it is important to be respectful of that. A good strategy is to applaud the progress they've made, and offer ideas and inspiration to see if they can go further. The student-teacher bond can further be strengthened by sharing some of the pitfalls and successes you have had in your own environmental lifestyle. (It also helps if you do the project too.)

Another wonderful aspect of the journals is witnessing the transition from one week to the next. At first students are dismayed at how hard it is to stick to the rules and they are not likely to be successful in every category. But by the end of the project they have discovered the strategies needed to survive and have become seasoned pros. Once they have adopted these new practices, they find that it is not difficult to maintain them. Thus, students emerge from the project with new environmentally-friendly habits that are likely to stick with them even after the assignment ends.

Embedded homework questions

Related homework questions can be built into each week of the project, and the answers can be turned in with the weekly journals. The first week, it is useful for students to do some basic calculations to learn what appliances and tasks use a lot of energy (taking a hot shower, driving, the refrigerator, and any electrical appliance that creates heat) and which use surprisingly little energy (computer, TV, stereo, microwave oven). Questions in the subsequent weeks can involve further calculations, discuss environmental policy, or provide a linkage between the project and other topics in the course.

BTU calculation assignment (Microsoft Word 43kB Dec23 05) An example of a homework question for the first week of the project.


Student journals are the basis for grading the lifestyle project. For each week of the project, journals are graded on a 10-point scale. It is difficult to assign a numerical grade for something so subjective, but criteria for grading the journals include the effort the student puts forth, the depth to which the student describes the details of their experience, their sincerity, and the commitment they demonstrate. If there is an additional homework assignment added to the project, such as calculating the BTUs for shower use or computer time, that can graded separately or included within that week's journal grade.

A rubric for assessment may be helpful, here is a basic rubric for journal assessment (Microsoft Word 30kB Oct27 10), which can be modified to suit your course.

In addition to providing an assessment of the journal each week, it is also helpful to supply specific comments to each student journal. This is an opportunity to respond to questions, shed light on misconceptions (using batteries does not mean you are avoiding using energy), and provide support, encouragement or ideas.

Academic Honesty

The possibility exists that students may fake their way through the project. However, the benefits of this learning opportunity outweigh the drawback that a few students may not take it seriously. Insincere journals are often very easy to spot. In order to make it through a single day as a vegetarian, car-free and without making any garbage, a student will have to make so many adjustments to her lifestyle that she will have a long story to tell at the end of it. A journal entry that reads, "I did not make any garbage today" is not credible, and will stand out in contrast to the rest of the class. Students who do not seem to be embracing the idea of the project should be encouraged to do the alternate assignment instead.

See specific teaching tips for using the Lifestyle Project in your classroom.