Trends in Green

Integrating Sustainability and Education

If there is a Mount Rushmore of educational facility trends, the issues of sustainability and project-based learning are prominently displayed. Yet these two initiatives do not intersect as often as one might think. Sustainability goals are often the purview of facilities professionals, while educators focus on curriculum and pedagogy. However, there are inspiring stories of how sustainability and education have combined to create successful learning environments.

One such example is the recently-renovated and expanded science wing at Shepard Middle School, part of Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, Ill. Designed to comply with Next Generation Science Standards and to keep energy costs in check, the project has amazed teachers and facilities staff, alike.

Making sustainability part of education

From an energy-efficiency standpoint, Shepard Middle School is a success all its own. Power for the science wing comes from the traditional electric grid and is supplemented by on-site wind and photovoltaic generation. The use of sustainable design strategies, such as a more efficient building envelope, renewable energy and energy-efficient systems, allowed the district to add air conditioning while decreasing energy use. However, that is just one benefit that sustainable design brings to the school.

At Shepard Middle School, building systems, wind turbines and photovoltaic panels act as a rich source of data for the Next Generation Science Standards curriculum. The science wing is separately metered from the rest of the building, allowing students to track energy use and energy generation by all systems. This information is available to the teaching staff in the form of a dashboard graphic display. Students access the data through energy dashboards located in collaborative breakout spaces in the hallways. Other sustainable concepts are on display in the science wing’s new outdoor labs, which feature planting beds irrigated by rainwater barrels.

Tracking energy from alternative energy sources is a cost-effective way to connect conservation and education. This strategy has the added benefit of providing valuable information for facilities personnel. By separately metering the science wing, Deerfield 109 personnel have access to data that will aid in planning for additional solar systems, should the District decide to pursue more aggressive energy goals.

Sustainability and Easter eggs

The use of energy data for project-based learning is part of a larger strategy to implement Next Generation Science Standards at Shepard Middle School. The school design includes multiple Easter eggs — a design element that reveals itself and rewards students through the learning process. At Shepard, each Easter egg is linked to specific learning goals found in NGSS. Window patterns display the Fibonacci sequence. Glass block combines with natural light to allow students to view the full light spectrum. An oculus tracks the movements of the sun, turning one lab into a solar observatory.

“Every square centimeter of this space is dedicated to teaching science to our next generation,” says Deerfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Lubefeld. “Our staff members have been in amazement for over five months and are still finding new capabilities in these labs.”

The use of Easter eggs provides multiple opportunities to display sustainable principles in the classroom. At Shepard, the wind turbines, photovoltaics and rainbarrels allow students to learn about conservation and energy efficiency. Each science lab has a nest box with an internal camera. The nest box provides shelter for the native Eastern bluebird, a species recently in decline in the area. As students discover the nest box, they are able to observe the birds up close and create a digital journal of the nesting process, eggs being laid and the growth of the chicks.

Easter eggs and similar design strategies provide unlimited possibilities for integrating sustainable principles and project-based learning. Another benefit is their cost-effective nature. For the cost of a wall graphic or a patterned floor, schools are able to create a source of inspiration and an effective tool for learning.

Preparing for the future

Our school districts are challenged with ever-increasing educational standards and ever-decreasing budgets. The creative assimilation of sustainable strategies into the classroom allows communities to meet the needs of tomorrow on all fronts. Sustainability in education is a beautiful thing, indeed.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Greg Monberg, AIA, CEFP, LEED-AP BD+C, is the director of design research for Fanning Howey, a national leader in K-12 school planning, design and energy solutions.

Douglas Lafever, CMVP, dlafever@fhai.com, is an energy services manager with Fanning Howey

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