CAUSE & EFFECT + THE ETHICS TOOLKIT

By Colbey Waggoner, 2nd Grade Educator


If you take a second to reflect on your day, there’s a good chance you’ve been tasked with making many decisions to get you to this point right here. Some decisions are simpler than others, such as choosing to have a coffee or tea with breakfast. Some decisions you’ve made require weighing the benefits, such as deciding to fit exercise into your schedule, or to use that extra hour playing games with your children. No matter which choice you make, one thing is certain, there’s always an effect. In school, your child is exploring cause and effect throughout nearly every subject area. It is a part of their freeplay, lunch, conversations, actions, and so much more.


As a team of students and educators, how can we connect our daily experiences of cause and effect relationships with a deeper understanding of ethics? Sycamore second graders began this exploration through play!

Cause and Effect in Play

Which move will allow me to take her queen? Why did our domino train fail? How can the marble travel faster and further than it did before? These are simply a few questions that we asked as we explored with cause and effect through play. One takeaway from our exploration was the realization that cause and effect is happening all around us, all the time! What type of effects occur from the choices we make?

Bridging Play and Academics

Sycamore students are often asked “What do you notice?” throughout their day. Making observations during play, while reading, when exploring a set of data, while studying the creek bed, when problem solving with a friend! Asking this open-ended question allows us the opportunity to make observations, notice correlations, and ultimately ask deeper questions.

Making Observations of Data

Students observed a graph titled “Everest’s Summit is Getting Dangerously Crowded.” Immediately, they began to wonder. “I wonder what caused the levels to go up” and “I wonder why there are zero ascents for 2015.”

Analyzing Data to Determine Cause and Effect

After reading and dissecting this data set, it was clear that Mt. Everest’s Summit was getting far too crowded, but what was the cause of this? This question led us on a quest to find out why.

We noticed the number of successful ascents grew gradually after the first ascent in 1953, and we began sharing our predictions as to what caused this increase: “Maybe people got braver after a few people made it.” “I think people evolved, so more and more people climbed it.” In this step, we are making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Researching Positive and Negative Effects of Exploration

While reading an article titled, “Tallest Peak or Tallest Pigsty?” we learned of negative effects occurring from the growth in successful Mt. Everest ascents. From the article, we gathered that climbers are polluting the mountain with all of their supplies and gear. This led us to wonder, “What if our exploration is causing more harm than good?”

Connecting Exploration and Ethics

What drives people to explore? In our class, we want to know “what was once there” and find “the secrets of the unknown.” We all agree that exploration leads us on a path of discovery, adventure, and excitement. But what if our exploration has negative consequences? In the article “Tallest Peak, or Tallest Pigsty,” we learned that The Nepalese refer to Mt. Everest as Sagarmartha, which means “forehead of the sky,” and the Tibetan name for Everest is Chomolangma, which translates to “Goddess of the snow.” We wondered how the Nepalese might feel as their holy mountain is becoming overpopulated and polluted with trash from climbers.

The Ethics Toolkit

Taking the perspective of others is an important element of our Ethics Toolkit. While we are not summiting Mt. Everest ourselves, we do realize that we are a part of many systems, and we are learning that we can greatly impact those systems through the choices we make. Our Ethics Toolkit reminds us to pause, reflect and think critically before making decisions.

Putting it into Practice

As humans existing here on planet earth, each of us is a part of an extremely large system. Making mindful decisions which positively impact our system is our choice to make. At Sycamore, students are learning to reference our Ethics Toolkit as a guide on making decisions. As explorers, we must remember that we have responsibilities to take care of other people, nature, and ourselves. In your own life, how can you consider the cause and effect of your choices? How can you make more ethical decisions?

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