Green Walls in Schools: Beyond Health Benefits and Into Curriculum

You have likely seen at least one article on why moss is highly beneficial for the home and for the workplace but we’d like to share why green walls aka moss walls (see our previous post on the differences between the types of green walls)make excellent sense for schools and other educational environments and we’ll go a little further than the stress and psychological benefits–in fact, green walls can be the foundation for project-based curriculum and other learning opportunities.

We were over the moon and crazy-excited to find this superior article by fellow midwestern folk on the benefits of plant life/green walls in educational environments. Michael B. McCullough, Michael D. Martin and Mollika A. Sajady in their superior perspective article, put it simply and succinctly, “Green walls have the potential to inspire critical thinking through a combination of project-based learning strategies and environmental education.”

Wait. What?  So beyond the benefits that we already know and list for you below, there are numerous learning opportunities when greenery is introduced into the learning environment.  In fact, the authors of this great piece have outlined a curriculum that incorporates project-based learning modules that interact with the wall.

“In conjunction with the passive health benefits of a green wall, project-based curriculum models can connect students interactively with indoor nature and have the potential to inspire real-world thinking related to science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics fields within the indoor learning environment. Through a combination of these passive and interactive modes, students are connected to nature in the indoor environment regardless of weather conditions outdoors.”

Source: Implementing Green Walls in SchoolsMichael B. McCullough1*Michael D. Martin2 and Mollika A. Sajady3

Well, that just makes sense.  Who doesn’t remember rainy or cold and snowy days when recess was held indoors and we were relegated to the classroom with maybe one philodendron on the teacher’s desk as the only green life in the room?

So in addition to making recess more fun and healthy, there are also ample STEM and STEAM learning opportunities.  For those of you unfamiliar with STEAM, it adds the wonders of art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math learning programs.  And as Biomimicry expert, Jamie Miller noted in a recent TEDTalk in Collingswood, “Dell put out a study last year saying that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030, do not exist today. There’s a huge transformation taking place and the next generation will actually be building the next economy. So I inspire that next generation to start thinking about their philosophies.”

Many educators have embraced both STEM and STEAM and the forward-thinking educators are thinking in terms of project-based, hands-on curriculum centered on the design of the classroom (or school as a whole) setting.

“It’s already been proven that being in the presence of plants can increase memory retention by around 20%, as well as improving people’s performance in a series of basic tests. This is thought to be due to the fact that their leaves and stems can absorb, deflect, and retract background noise, such as exterior traffic, children playing in the playground, and people talking in corridors.”

Source: The Benefits of Plants in Schools and Educational Facilities by phs.Greenleaf out of the U.K.

And here is where we explain that our moss walls function like plants.  Though the moss we use (harvested in North Carolina and Kentucky) is preserved and dormant, it still absorbs both noise and air pollution and is maintenance free (no watering or misting ever needed).

And because moss covers a greater area (in terms of square footage), it actually absorbs as much noise and air pollution as hundreds of plants.  The photo below aptly illustrates how that is possible.

The benefits of moss do not end with reduced noise and air pollution though, so we rely on the work and research of others to substantiate the statement that moss is very, very good for your health and for learning.

Benefits

Improves classroom performance

The lovely folks at phs Greenleaf in the U.K. spell out for us what happens when just three plants are introduced into a learning environment.  Student performance in spelling, math, reading and science improved by over 10% (a significant increase for those of us familiar with curriculum development and learning research).

researcher in Taiwan found similar positive effects from greenery in the classroom.  K.T. Han used surveys every two weeks to assess students’ emotions. He also collected objective information on students’ academic performance, health, and behavior and found that students in the experimental classroom (where plants were introduced) had significantly higher scores than the “control” classroom in terms of preference, comfort, and friendliness.  Additionally, those in the experimental classroom had higher test scores on academic measures than those in the other classroom.

In addition to serving as a filter for distracting background noise, another explanation for why plant life can improve student classroom performance is because moss reduces levels of CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds in the air). Studies explicate that students exposed to high levels, this can experience headaches, dizziness, and tiredness, all of which impact a student’s ability to concentrate and focus.  And speaking of focus…

Reduces “directed-attention” fatigue

So this is cool–way back in the 1970s, USDA Forest Service provided funding for research on the effects of an outdoor challenge program in the wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That research spurred a series of investigations with findings that have influenced a generation of environmental psychologists.

“What grew out of that work was the influential theory of restorative environmentsoutlined in such books as “With People in Mind: Design and Management for Everyday Nature” (Island Press, 1998). Drawing on William James’s distinction, between two kinds of attention, which they refer to as directed attention and fascination, the Kaplans [Rachel Kaplan, PhD and Stephen Kaplan, PhD) argue that using too much of the former can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility, and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state.”

Source: Green is Good for You by Rebecca A. Clay. April 2001, Vol 32, No. 4

Reduces anxiety and stress

Introducing greenery to an environment reduces feelings of tension and anxiety by around 37%,  and anger by 44%. 

We are all quite aware that frequent, high levels of stress can have a negative effect on a person’s health and well-being, from causing headaches, fatigue and general aches and pains (which can impact your productivity by making you feel generally unwell), to making you feel more sad, fearful, and irritable.

The cool kids at phs Greenleaf recommend introducing Lemon Balm, Haworthia, and the Snake Plant to classrooms and school hallways.  These are excellent recommendations but be aware that plants (in comparison to moss) do require maintenance whereas moss does not and moss will retain its color for at least ten years, if not longer.

Fewer sick days/illnesses

So we already know that greenery in schools and other educational environments will reduce the CO2 levels in the building, which reduces the likelihood of teachers and students experiencing unwanted side effects, such as headaches (Yes, yes, we are obsessed with headaches since 38 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from migraines or some kind of chronic headache).  We know from a Norwegian study by Fjeld in 2002 that introducing potted plants to classrooms reduced the amount of sickness-related absences amongst primary school students and we know from our own experience of introducing moss in an environment not only reduces migraine attacks, it also increases humidity in the environment, making it more healthy overall.

And it’s not just us.  Taiwanese researcher K. T. Han also found that students in the classroom with plants had significantly fewer sick leave hours and punishment records than students in the regular classroom.

But let us be clear—we are not suggesting that a moss wall is the complete and total solution for improving and enhancing learning environments.  In fact, we underscore and applaud the work of Oliver Heath out of the U.K.  He has shared a fantastic case study on The Garden School, Hackney in which he explains his holistic approach to creating a nature-enhanced, optimal learning environment.  Heath introduced natural wood in hectagon shapes along with multi-sensory features with which the students can interact.  Highly recommend you watch the video and read the case study on The Garden School, it’s inspiring.

So inspiring that we are planning an imaginary “bio-dinner” with Oliver Heath, Jamie Miller, Janine Benyus, Anna Lappe, Woody Harrelson, and, of course, Willie Nelson.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  And after dinner, there will be dancing.

As Jamie Miller suggests, “start to dance with nature, start to figure out how to leverage nature and participate with nature, in harmony.”

Great suggestion Jamie.  We’re excited to keep learning.  And we’re ready to dance.

As Ever, Yours in the Love of Learning and All Things Green.

Kasey and Morten

The Fat Plant Society 

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How to Find Your Voice and Take the Struggle Out of Writing

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking at AMA_Iowa at their Experience conference on February 23, 2018, to a room full of attentive, enthusiastic marketers who asked some really great questions after my presentation.  I’ll get to those great questions but first, let’s do a quick run through of my tips for Finding Your Voice: Writing Authentically to Engage and Retain.  

What you need to know about me, and my presentation is that I am not prescribing a singular method for the authentic writing process.  What I do recommend, however, is that you develop your own process that is just yours and own that process.  Like just about everything, we get better through practicing and honing a specific methodology.  Mine involves setting aside an entire day for writing so I can give that writing the love and care it deserves.

KLR.AMA.IowaExperience

If you are anything like me, you feel pretty overwhelmed much of the time as you work to keep up with the moving target of content marketing, let alone data analytics and sometimes you want to put your head in your hands and cover your ears with headphones blaring Rage Against the Machine.

There is no way anyone can keep up with all of the information promulgated so we all have to learn to be selective, to trust our instincts, and find the content that truly captures us.  

Here are my five tips for finding your voice and writing content that is not only educational and informational but authentic engaging as well.

  1. Make writing a part of your life. Writing should not be that last, hurried thing you have to do before the end of the week.  That’s why my writing day is Tuesday.  By writing on Tuesday, I have time to let my writing season and simmer.

    No more than one would throw all of the ingredients for chili into a pot and eat it right away, good writing needs time to season and simmer.  At AMA_KC, we got to laughing about how nobody likes “bad chili.”  Good content needs to simmer.

    By letting it simmer, I can step away from it and come back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh(er) perspective and then make the necessary edits.  It also helps to get a neato little notebook so when you have a stroke of genius or even a passing thought that could become a killer blog post, you can write it down by hand, which also matters and helps the brain to help you become a better writer.

  2. To be heard above the noise, you must be compelling and to be compelling is to be vulnerable.  No one likes any person, personality, or business that purports that they are perfect and invulnerable.  To be vulnerable is to be human and we all trust the organizations and people that admit when they’ve made a mistake, that cop to being afraid and worried at times, and that express their humanity.

  3. Hone your tone. It is hard to be an authentic and compelling writer without being a good listener.  I’ve always felt the authentic voice comes from the authentic person so I ask a lot of questions of everyone I communicate with throughout a given week and I listen carefully to the answers.  Invariably, because I am listening, I learn something and get inspired by others which I then use as writing fodder.  And ask yourself, is this how I talk?  If the answer is no, it probably isn’t an authentic piece of writing.

  4. Consume content and make connections.  Be an interdisciplinary thinker.  The world is more interdisciplinary than ever before and studying and learning outside the realm of marketing is incredibly valuable.  Consume content is not marketing content.  

I consume my content on long walks so my advice to take a long walk in the woods is advice that I adhere to as well.  It is incredibly helpful and taking the time to listen to content while walking seems to open up my mind and enable me to make connections in a way I am just not able to do while sitting at my desk.

 

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Listen to podcasts but podcasts are, of course, just one form of content.  If reading is your thing, then read and pick up magazines and articles you might not normally read.  I cannot tell you the wealth of ideas (and knowledge) I gain by reading Omni Magazine.  Before you contradict me and tell me that Omni Magazine went out of print in the 90s, check again.  They just quietly relaunched a quarterly publication that is worth a review, as is Scientific American. I love learning about science (because I am not a scientist) and making connections between science, marketing, and business.

5. Find the thread and headline last. One of the benefits of making writing a part of your life is that you now have the time to go back and revisit a mediocre piece of writing, find the thread, improve the piece and then last, but not least, write that killer headline that will capture readers far and wide.

So back to those two of those questions have stayed with me—the first of those questions was how to straddle and balance the need for an authentic voice with the established brand identity of the organization.

In simpler terms, how do I write for my organization and still sound like a human being and not a brand robot?

My answer lies in the creative brief.  We all know this tool is ideal for working with clients and solving problems but it can be effectively repurposed as a tool for finding your voice that not only aligns with the organization brand but enhances it greatly.  I highly recommend developing a creative brief that marries your voice with that of your organization.

The other question from the session that stuck with me was how to enhance and expand on content when you run out of words or when the topic has been hashed and rehashed.  The answer to that lies in creating your own content library.  My Gmail account is my content library and at any given moment I can search for the emails I have sent myself and scroll through them to find an ideal argument (or better yet, counter-argument) for the topic I am writing about and I manage it like a librarian.

Kansas_City_Public_Library

Lastly, and certainly not least, I remind you, the gentle reader, to make writing a part of your life.  Writing matters and your words deserve that much love and attention.

Yours in authenticity,

-KLR

Making Connections: A Step by Step Guide to Curating Content for a Killer Blog

This post is a deep dive into slide 9 of my presentation titled, “Finding Your Voice: How to Write Authentically to Engage and Retain.  For those of you attending the upcoming AMA Iowa conference on February 23, 2018, I will be delivering that presentation and this post is the “Extended Version,” of Slide 9, not unlike an extended LP or EP in music.

Slide 9 is titled “Make Connections.”  That’s easy to advise and much harder to do so let’s take a look at the actual process for making connections with relevant and tangential topics as well as authors who may not be well known or even consider themselves “authors” and why making connections will make you a better, and more engaging writer.

If you are anything like me, you feel pretty overwhelmed much of the time as you work to keep up with the moving target of content marketing, let alone analytics and marketing in general and sometimes you want to put your head in your hands and cover your ears with headphones blaring Rage Against the Machine.  There is no way anyone can keep up with all of the information promulgated so we all have to learn to be selective, to trust our instincts, and find the content that truly captures us.  And guess what?

That content does not necessarily have to be marketing content.  

Consuming content is hard. We all have jobs to do, groceries to get, houses to clean and emails, oh my stars, the emails.  They never end.  Plus, we need to relax once in a while and focusing on marketing content 24-7 does not a well-rounded writer make.

CONSUME CONTENT 

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I subscribe to five different podcasts and I listen to an additional two or three and only one of those podcasts is about marketing (it’s Jay Acunzo’s Unthinkable) but the ones
I enjoy the most and the ones that seem to spur the most innovative ideas (possibly giving myself too much credit here) and enable me to think in an interdisciplinary fashion (which is how I believe strong marketers think) are the surprise topics that The New Yorker podcast serves up.  One of my faves is an interview that The New Yorker writer, David Remnick conducts with Bruce Springsteen.  Remnick sits down with Springsteen for an hour on the stage of The New Yorker Festival and whether you are a fan of Springsteen or not, I would question you at length if you did not find the interview compelling and interesting.  Again, not about marketing at all but my takeaways (that apply to marketing) are as follows:

  1. Deciding what to write and when matter (this stems from the question to Springsteen about why he decided to write his memoir).  Kinda begs the question of when one begins to reflect on their own life and very much begs the question of timing.  When it the right time to address the topic–whether it’s an innovative marketing concept or net neutrality *gulp*, timing is everything.  For example, there is no way I am touching the net neutrality issue until the smoke clears a little.  I would like to learn from others and their views on the subject before I start spouting about it.
  2. Find the (writing) voice you are comfortable in that normally might feel awkward and keep at it.
  3. Express yourself authentically or don’t bother (in a super charming way, Springsteen cops to the fact that the subtext of every one of his songs is a cry for or about Daddy–how authentic is that?) He actually goes into his relationship with his dad in detail and both heartwrenching and relatable.

And that’s just one podcast from The New Yorker.  Some of the other topics that have captured me range from “Slut: The Play,” an Empowering Story for Young Women” (and a great way to hone your empathy) to an interview with author of “My Struggle,” “Karl Ove Knausgaard on Near Death Experiences, Raising Kids, Puberty, Brain Surgery and Turtles.”  I mean come on, if you can’t find something compelling and applicable to content marketing from that podcast, you should take a walk in the woods and re-awaken your imagination.  And if you can retain your Midwestern, American sense of humor, you will be utterly charmed by the ever-existential Scandinavian.  Don’t forget that Denmark is the land of Soren Kirkegaard, the father of existentialism and honestly, that perspective is pretty helpful sometimes.  Case in point is my favorite Kirkegaard quote, “Once you label me you negate me.”  That feels pretty timely, don’t you think?

I consume my content on long walks so my advice to take a long walk in the woods is advice that I adhere to as well.  It is incredibly helpful and taking the time to listen to content while walking seems to open up my mind and enable me to make connections in a way I am just not able to do while sitting at my desk.

Podcasts are, of course, just one form of content.  If reading is your thing, then read and pick up magazines and articles you might not normally read.  I cannot tell you the wealth of ideas (and knowledge) I gain by reading Omni Magazine.  Before you contradict me and tell me that Omni Magazine went out of print in the 90s, check again.  They just quietly relaunched a quarterly publication that is worth a review, as is Scientific American.  

I dig how reading about science engages another part of my brain and I feel I gain a great deal of valuable and applicable knowledge from reading about the mind and how the mind functions from a scientific perspective.  Makes senses for us marketers to know a bit about that, don’t you think?

DO A LITTLE DIGGING

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So now that you have consumed content that goes beyond the same information about SEO and SEM and Google Adwords and such, you can do a little digging and begin to make connections that are rather innovative.

For example, articles about the mind and brain function lend insight into empathy (which is something I feel every good writer should have) and how empathy can lend itself to strong content marketing.  But this time, instead of backlinking to the other content marketing articles on empathy, you can provide new insight into empathy by linking to “off the beaten path content” and aid your readers in thinking in new ways as well.

START WRITING

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Now it’s time to start writing.  Sometimes I use a loose, handwritten outline but for the most part, I just start writing and as I write the thread begins to emerge.  Sure, I may have to go back and do a little more research on one topic or another but the only way to get words on the page is to start writing and keep writing.

For inspiration and guidance in that area, I look to publications that challenge my own experiences.  One of my “go-to’s” is Deep South Magazine.  I am not a southerner and I honestly know very little about the southern American experience so reading articles like “The Greatest Bromances in Southern Literature” and “The Real Roots of Southern Cuisine” are fascinating.  The magazine is a window into a culture very far from my own, but arguably, one I should understand since we source our products for The Fat Plant Society from North Carolina and Kentucky and some of our customers are from the south so it’s a market I need to know and know well.

Of course, some days the words flow out of me faster and easier than others but the bottom line is that the words won’t appear on the page unless you type them.  Get some content on the page and worry about finding the thread and editing it later.  Just keep writing and it will come.

Once you start making connections between seemingly disparate concepts, you become more interesting and so does your writing.  

As David Remnick tells Bruce Springsteen, every good song, like every good piece of writing has brains, soul, and heart.  

 

 

B2B Marketing CAN Be Creative, Compelling, and Share-Worthy: Key Lessons from Carla Johnson via a B2B Newbie

Fisheye.TruckAs a marketer who has recently found herself in B2B after many years of B2C marketing, not only did I take copious notes while watching Carla Johnson‘s talk at  the BMA KC on January 31, 2017, I started researching and digging around because for the life of me, I still cannot come up with the creative brand that I want to be more creative than…

Let me back up a little for those of you who have not watched her talk in its entirety (seriously, though, take the time to do so because it’s well worth the time investment)! Carla has coined an accurate term that many of us experience in real-life, every day: BRAND DETACHMENT DISORDER.  You know, that brand that you are so sick of hearing about that you turn off and tune out when you hear about them–even when it is second or third hand?  I can name three of those brands easily and without too much thought.  But the challenge that Carla Johnson issues is much tougher (for me anyway)–she challenges us to fill in the following sentence:

“I CAN be more creative than (Insert Favorite, Best, and Most Creative Company Here).”

And who doesn’t love a good challenge?  But how the heck do I get there?  Carla has a road map for that and I am going to provide you with my current experiences as a concrete example of how to suss out a highly creative and compelling campaign that will not only engage your current and potential customers but will also endear you to them.

We have to start with the premise that Carla Johnson starts us off with,

“Creativity is something everybody can do at any time.”

Okay, I believe that and while it may take work, it is highly likely that I can be creative in promoting this valuable business to the businesses who need our services.  But it gets even better than that because I have the excellent fortune of working for a B2B business that is incredibly interesting, fast-paced, and compelling.  Additionally, there are so many exciting and gripping stories that I can’t see how one wouldn’t’ find what we do compelling.

“Connect the dots” between our services and the people I need to reach.   

For the most part, the people I need to reach are television producers, many of whom have been in the game for many years and have seen, well, a heckuva a lot.   IMG_7062Again, I was taking copious notes during Carla Johnson’s talk so I know that after considering how to best connect the dots between our services (giant Ku Band and C Band satellite trucks and a guarantee that every live-shot and satellite media tour will come off without a hitch) and the television producers I need to reach, I must now consider what those television producers are worrying about how the services my company provides can solve that problem.

*Lightbulb comes on* Ratings!  Producers care about ratings.  We can help them increase their ratings.  Now I just need to engage them. *Gulp*

FEAR kills creativity. 

Carla Johnson expounds on that statement and provides fantastic examples but the gist is that I not only have to consider my own fear and how it may be crippling or stifling my creativity, I need to remember that a highly creative, “out-of-the-box” campaign may also be frightening to company leadership.  But Carla has an answer for that and one that I can back up with evidence,

“Small steps with creativity = Huge Outcomes.” 

Remember that even if the step you want to take is a giant leap (like a Red-Rover, Red-Rover leap), the organization and the audience might not be ready for that leap so start with a small step.  Execute a small creative leap (for free through your owned media) and track the results.  The data will speak for itself.  If the creative baby -step doesn’t work, re-work it and try again.  I can actually hear Bill Murray from “What About Bob?” talking to the camera during the Good Morning America interview, “I couldn’t be happier about ‘Baby-Steps.”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere.”

As Bob would say, “it’s the horse-sense of it all!”  Yes, creativity can come from anywhere and for many of us, thinking on those creative lines does not stop when you pack it in for the day.  Creativity needs to be nurtured and whether it’s watching the series Abstract on Netflix or reading the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, there are ways to seek out and further develop your creative sensibilities.  I would humbly add that being a good listener can also aid in honing creativity.  I find I learn and observe differently when I keep my mouth shut.

“Creativity is a muscle.” 

The creative muscle, like all muscles, gets stronger with use.  Many of us train our brains as we *ahem* get longer in the tooth with tools like Lumosity and the New York Times crossword puzzle, so why not exercise the creative muscle by visiting a museum, watching the best live shots on YouTube from the past three years, or flipping through an anthology of great American artists and their work?

“The content should pay for itself.” 

Having spent much of my career with a meager budget, that statement gave me so much pause that I rewound to make sure I heard it correctly.  Carla Johnson was talking about one of her clients who feels that content should be so compelling that it is shared by virtue of its intrinsic value.  In fact, he would prefer to not pay to get the content out in the world, he would rather the content stand on its own merits. I couldn’t agree more!  Earned publicity through owned channels is a brilliant goal and an excellent test of the creative mettle if you will.

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While I am still searching for the company that I want to be “more creative than…” I am optimistic, confident, and inspired that creativity within B2B is achievable!  Thanks Carla Johnson!

 

 

 

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