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Wednesday
Aug312016

EfS in Schools: Denver Green School

  

 

Today, we’d like to introduce you to the Denver Green School (DGS), a public neighborhood K-8 school now in its seventh year.  DGS, located in a diverse urban setting, is one of Denver’s “Innovation” schools.  These schools create their own unique program design with waivers from certain state and district rules.  Recently, DGS was among four schools granted even more autonomy through the approval of a new “Innovation Zone”.

DGS has a mission of providing “a hands-on, brains-on experience that includes all students, staff, families and community, preparing all learners to lead the way toward a sustainable, bright green future.”  Shared leadership and real world learning opportunities allow the school to successfully integrate Education for Sustainability (EfS) into its core curriculum. A U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, DGS has also been recognized for its academic success, school culture and community partnerships.  The school emphasizes environmental, economic and social sustainability and strives to reduce its ecological footprint. It has a thriving urban farm and gardens that serve as learning laboratories and provide food for students and the community. With its solar panels, solar tubes and energy monitoring, DGS has been able to cut its energy usage by half since its inception.  A student-run water conservation effort proposed by the sixth grade science curriculum in the early days of the creation of the school saved an incredible one million gallons of water per year.

 A Strong Foundation for Innovation

The DGS’s partnership with The Cloud Institute began even before its doors opened in 2010.  The school’s founders were committed to designing the school’s model, curriculum and staff training around the EfS standards and mental models.  From 2009 to 2015, Jaimie worked with DGS, providing professional development, administrative planning, onsite and remote coaching and more.  “Our work with The Cloud Institute laid the EfS foundation for our students, staff and the community as a whole,” stated Dr. Mimi Diaz, one of DGS’s founding Lead Partners.  The early focus on teacher development and an integrated curriculum has yielded meaningful results. “Kids that started here in their K-3 years speak the language of EfS and are able to demonstrate its foundational components,” said Diaz.  “We see changes in what the kids eat and their knowledge around healthy systems and food.  They are more cognizant of how we use and give back to the resources in the building and at home.” 

Meaningful Outcomes

Over time, school leaders have seen the curriculum deepen through expansion of interdisciplinary units and opportunities for real-world learning. Their goal? “As the kids leave our 8th grade, we want them to be able to talk about, share and demonstrate their understanding of an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future,” declared Diaz.  They are making great strides. “I think at this point, our shining star is our 6th grade,” Diaz said proudly. “The curriculum centers around community justice, is truly project based, interdisciplinary and what we call ‘hands-on, brains-on’.  The EfS standards are connected with the learning activities, the assessments and Common Core Standards.” 

Maintaining Progress Takes Work

Progress does comes with its share of challenges and DGS is no exception.  As new staff join the team, professional development is key to maintaining a shared understanding of EfS. Diaz explained, “Ongoing professional development is vital to keep people up to speed and digging deeper into their knowledge of mental models, to be able to live them and consciously be able to assess adults and students around all the pieces. We’re getting there, but there’s still a long way to go.”  She acknowledges the struggle to stay connected to The Cloud Institute as budgetary constraints seemingly limit the ability to pay for outside consultants.  Still, Diaz is grateful for the early partnership with The Cloud Institute, “The EfS standards and performance indicators remain the foundation of what our mission, vision and values are all about.  The Cloud Institute offers resources and professional development that no one else has.  We wouldn’t be where we were without them.” 

An Eye for the Future

No longer at DGS, Diaz is philosophical about her time there, “When I was thinking about moving on and helping the school visualize what needs to happen in the years to come, the questions we asked included,  “How will we adjust our thinking as needed? What will we preserve and change  and how will we make decisions?  How can we ensure that we make a conscious effort to keep asking those and new questions as we learn and grow? This shift of thinking needs to continue with others for our original vision to come true.”

And with almost all students meeting or exceeding state standards and over 95% of staff returning for the 2016-17 school year,  it appears they are well on their way! 

 

Read more about The Denver Green School here.  Its EFS Standards Alignment Map for 2nd grade is available in The Cloud Institute’s Curriculum Design Manual, available on our website. Photo credit: Denver Green School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Aug112016

EFS: The Key to Sustainable Communities (Spoiler Alert!)

I have a confession to make. A ten year effort to help my community become sustainable has had limited success.  Early enthusiastic progress, followed by a return to something resembling the status quo, has become a familiar pattern among the institutions in my town. Each experience starts with that same intoxicating esprit de corps, yet somehow, after the public’s attention shifts, things slowly end up fizzling out. This boom bust cycle leaves me wondering— if our local institutions can’t move beyond business as usual, how can we, as a society, ever hope to achieve a sustainable future? 

 Looking Upstream

Determined not to give in to cynicism, I decide to delve deeper. I notice that my town is not unique.  There are examples everywhere of governments, schools, and companies that start out with good intentions, only to find themselves stuck at second base.  It’s not that people don’t recognize that change is needed. In fact, most of my collaborators over the years have been dedicated public servants, already convinced of the role that communities have to play in creating a greener future. So, what’s stopping us? 

 My mentor, Jaimie Cloud, taught me to look for the most upstream problem within my sphere of influence before finding a win win win solution.  Addressing symptoms, rather than the true source of the issue, leads to making the problem worse over time and the creation of new problems.  In System Dynamics it is classically known as a “Shifting the Burden Archetype”. 

 A New Way of Thinking

Applying this logic to my own community, I realize that something different is needed to help us move beyond the status quo. Simply giving people information and supporting their efforts to adopt sustainable practices is not enough. A whole new way of thinking and acting is required.  

We all know that kids are naturally creative and open to new ideas. They are optimistic about the world and their role in making it a better place.  So why do so many ultimately fall into the same destructive patterns as the adults in their lives?  I believe it is the result of our educational system, one that does not adequately prepare us to take the lead in creating a sustainable future.  

 Educating with the Future in Mind

A sustainable society has been described as “one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support” (Meadows).  In this context, it seems almost irrational for us to be educating our children for UN-sustainability.  Imagine if we used the thirteen years that kids are required to be in school to educate them FOR sustainability? Education for Sustainability (EFS) recognizes the key role that teaching and learning play in shaping the future that we want.  It combines the best practices in education with the content, skills and habits of mind required for students to participate in, and to lead with us the honor of making that future a reality. 

EFS is not simply teaching kids about the environment. We need to understand the laws and principles that govern our natural world, we need to consider multiple perspectives, invent the future and become responsible, global citizens. Young people must learn to be creative thinkers, metacognitive thinkers and systems thinkers, and they need to learn how to transfer their learning to real life situations.  And unlike the recent trend of teaching kids about all the “problems” facing this planet, EFS offers an optimistic, empowering view of the future. The latest research on the impact of EFS demonstrates multiple, positive and lasting benefits on students, teachers and yes, even on communities.  The Cloud Institute works with educators and their communities to prepare young people for the shift toward a sustainable future. Their EfS Framework illustrates a whole systems approach, which springs from the recognition that lasting transformation in education requires innovation at the curricular, institutional, and community levels.

As I reflect on my experiences over the past decade, I imagine how things might have turned out differently had we all been educated for sustainability.  I wonder if our society would be better equipped to deal with the challenges of our time. Maybe we would have already figured out how to make the shift to a sustainable way of life.  I haven't yet given up on our potential as adults to get this right, but given our track record, I’m betting on the kids.  

 

Lori Braunstein is the Director for Change Leadership at The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and the founder of Sustainable Cherry Hill, a NJ based civic organization. Follow along as she writes about “change agentry”, community/school partnerships and more. You can reach her at lori@cloudinstitute.org.

 

 

Wednesday
Jul062016

The Lovett School: Observations Tell the Story of EFS Impact

Student-made Renewable Energy Machines Each school that Jaimie works with adopts Education for Sustainability (EFS) in a unique manner though there are specific conditions that support comprehensive and lasting change within the school community. 

 The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA has been working with The Cloud Institute for the past year.  They recently partnered with Jaimie to determine the extent to which they were educating for sustainability.  The school provided an extensive list of classroom activities and lessons (UbD Stage 3), which Jaimie then analyzed and annotated.  This work and Jaimie’s recommendations are well documented in the Cloud Blog titled, “Is this Education for Sustainability?”.  Additional information about their progress can be found in Lovett’s,  Sustainability Program Annual Report .

 While measurable data is the preferred method of assessment, anecdotal evidence can provide a window into the early impact of EFS on students and the school community.  Beginning to see the fruits of their hard work, The Lovett School recently shared their observations with The Cloud Institute.  These are particularly exciting as they support the growing empirical data documenting similar outcomes. 

 Teachers at Lovett reported the following changes since beginning their EFS journey: 

 Student Impact:  

  •  Increased Student engagement
  •  More Authentic and Genuine Participation
  •  Significant Growth Mindset
  •  Improved Quality of Work
  •  Increased Student interest in subject matter
  •  Increased Student interest in sustainability
  •  Increased curiosity
  •  Improved Performance in knowledge acquisition and skills
  •  Higher % of students meeting and exceeding teacher expectations  (bell curve shifted dramatically)
  • Green Team attendance went from 4 students per meeting to meeting the goal of 20 students per meeting  

Teacher Impact: 

  • Teachers energized and motivated  by student enthusiasm and engagement
  • Teachers able to target, teach for, make explicit and assess for concrete EfS performance indicators which improved overall student performance

 We will continue to follow The Lovett School’s progress as they deepen their EFS work by developing a shared understanding of EFS and creating short and long term plans to systemically integrate and diffuse EFS throughout the school in a way that is documented, assessed, shared, integrated and improved over time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Apr292016

EFS in Schools: Compass Charter School

Photo Credit: CCS Website Today, we’d like to introduce you to Compass Charter School,  a new progressive elementary school located in Brooklyn, NY. The school, which opened in 2014, currently offers kindergarten through second grade, but plans to serve children in grades K-5 at full capacity. Compass Charter School is the result of a 2012-13 journey by three Brooklyn teachers who traveled the nation in search of what is working well in the American education system. Brooke Peters, Michelle Healy, and Todd Sutler called their expedition The Odyssey Initiative (OI) and returned home to establish a school using lessons learned along the road.  “ From our experience on the trip, we decided to start a new school that was progressive, inquiry based and one that connected with authentic experiences in the real world,” explains Healy.  It soon became clear that a charter school was the best fit for the trio’s innovative philosophy, which required a departure from the traditional public school structure of leadership and budgeting.  


A Mission is Born
 
Upon their return, the travelers noticed  that a number of the schools encountered on their journey were using Education for Sustainability (EfS) as a unifying framework and ultimately connected with The Cloud Institute.  “It turned out that some of the schools we visited were partners with The Cloud Institute so we got to see the program firsthand and how they worked with Jaimie,” describes Healy.  EfS seemed to connect many of the ideas the trio wanted to focus on for their new school.  “We found that it brought everything together for us.  We wanted it to be natural and have a social justice and economic side,” says Peters.  “EfS helped us get the vocabulary and the framework. It lead us to Jaimie and the mission was born.”

The Road Map Emerges

Intrigued by the EfS standards,  Healy and Peters first attended The Cloud Institute’s Summer Design Studio (SDS) in 2014.  They immediately noticed the SDS was not a typical Professional Development (PD).  “It really was a design studio,” says Healy.  “Jaimie was there and flexible when we needed it, but she was also able to step out if we wanted to do some work designing.”  The two spent the week exploring how to vertically align the EfS standards with K-5 curriculum and integrate Science and Social Studies standards in a meaningful way. “ Even though our school wasn’t approved yet, we just paid for the studio to help us develop what we wanted and where we wanted to go,” explains Healy.  “We added very special foundational things, like overnight camping, a trip to see civil rights things and more, all depending on the units and years.  That was the road map.” Another benefit of participating in the SDS was the opportunity to connect with others doing this work. “We also met some other people while we were there and we got to visit and learn from educators in NJ and other places. So it was a nice networking event as well, “ describes Peters. Once the school opened, the two returned to the SDS to work on unit design, this time accompanied by the school’s new Sustainability Coordinator, Kristen Beneke and a few founding faculty.  Jaimie began monthly on-site coaching to support school leadership and faculty to help build the school, refine the units and focus on content skills and assessment. The team is planning to return to SDS this summer to continue to document and map their curriculum.

An Integrated EfS Curriculum

The Compass Charter School created a curriculum that aims to connect children with the natural world and the systems that sustain communities. Located in one of the most racially and culturally diverse places in New York City, the school takes advantage of  local resources, such as people, green spaces, architecture and history.  Sustainability is woven throughout the entire curriculum, including a twice weekly Sustainability Studio and ongoing classroom units at least three times a week. Teachers and staff meet every week to plan the integrated sustainability lessons. All curriculum is aligned with EfS standards as well as Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. In grades K-2, students immerse themselves in the natural world and begin scientific inquiry through play, exploration, and hands-on activities. Once grades 3-5 are added, students will participate in civic engagement by researching natural and built environments, and designing and implementing service projects within their own community.
 

Walking the Talk

At Compass Charter School, sustainability education doesn’t end at the classroom door. Green practices are implemented throughout the school such as vermiculture, composting, recycling and even CSA (community supported agriculture) shares distributed at the student-run farmer’s market in the schoolyard. Community members help to provide healthy snacks, cleaning products, and water bottles for the students. The classrooms at Compass offer natural environments that contain wood furniture, plants, and signs made by the students and teachers. Students transfer what they learn in the studio throughout their day at school and at home. Families donate recycled materials for arts and crafts projects and students recycle and reuse materials by transforming them into new objects. Everyday a student comes into school with a new object from nature that they must share or use as inspiration for a piece of writing about the Earth.

The Odyssey Continues

Creating a school from the ground up is as energizing as it is daunting.  “We are riding the bicycle and building the bicycle at the same time,” explains Beneke.  “It’s a challenge, but from it we will create something beautiful.” And they are not doing it alone.  The Cloud Institute’s partnership has been vital to Compass Charter School’s early progress.  “I don’t know where we would be without the dedicated assistance from The Cloud Institute.  It’s the centerpiece.“ says Peters. ”EfS brings it all together.”

For more on Compass Charter School, visit their website.












 

Tuesday
Apr122016

Sustainability In Schools: What Kind Of Future Do We Want

Originally published on April 1, 2016 By Vicki So, Rubicon International on the Rubicon PD Update.

 

 

Jaimie Cloud, founder and president of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, begins most projects with the following questions:

"What kind of future do we want? What do we want to sustain? For whom? For how long? .... And what does education have to do with it? 

 A fundamental part of the Cloud Institute’s mission is to inspire young people to think deeply about their relationship with the environment and to empower them to influence it. The Cloud Institute’s Framework for Education for Sustainability demonstrates the interdependence between students, educators, school systems, and communities at large. In order to achieve its mission, the Cloud Institute has embedded research-driven knowledge, skills, attitudes and habits of mind into the Education for Sustainability (EfS) Standards and Performance Indicators.

In the three-part webinar series below, Jaimie discusses her work in partnership with the Rubicon-Atlas Curriculum Mapping software team and the NYC Department of Education. In particular, she explains why the curriculum mapping process is so important for bringing the EfS Standards to life [Download Jaimie’s top 10 reasons here].

“Aligned to national and state educational standards, each EfS Standard has a set of coded Performance Indicators used to guide educators as they infuse their school culture, curriculum, instruction and assessment practices with Education for Sustainability. We believe that by meeting these EfS standards, young people will be prepared to participate in, and lead with us, the shift toward a sustainable future.”

 

 In the first video, Jaimie defines sustainability and her work with the Cloud Institute [Click here to download presentation slides].

 

The second video highlights how the EfS standards come to life in the Atlas Curriculum Software and explains why the curriculum mapping process is important [Note: an open Q&A is included at the end of this video].

 

The third video provides an in-depth case study how the NYC-DOE has transformed their Career & Technical (CTE) program through the global Sustainable Development Goals created by the United Nations [Click here to download presentation slides].

 

Do you have a sustainability program at your school? Shoot us an email at pd@rubicon.com and share your story. If you are interested in learning more about trends in environmental education, click HERE

Tuesday
Mar222016

Education for Sustainability: A Trendsetter in Assessment

Tiger by Bud BlakeFrom classrooms to coffee shops, it seems that everywhere you turn these days, people are expressing frustration about the role that standardized tests play in our educational system.  Parents, teachers, administrators and now even the US government are pushing back on the amount of time our schools spend preparing for and administering this type of assessment. In October 2015, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education released a new testing action plan, acknowledging that, “In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students.” This action plan recommends capping the amount of class time devoted to standardized testing at no more than 2 percent and promotes high-quality and innovative assessment practices. In response to public opinion and in anticipation of changes in educational policy, many school districts have already started prioritizing formative and performance-based assessments over standardized testing.

Getting Smarter about Assessment

In the District Administration article, Outlook: Schools push for sensible testing, Jennifer Fink explores this phenomenon, making the case that most people have no objection to some form of assessment, as long as it is aligned to meaningful learning and that it provides useful feedback.  Fink quotes Vicki Phillips, Director of Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as saying, “The question now is, how do we get smarter about assessment?  How do we make standards and assessments more useful, more meaningful to teachers and kids?”

Formative assessments help students and teachers track progress over time, providing ongoing  instructional feedback. “I think a trend that will continue to grow is formative assessments that teachers can access on an ongoing basis, which tell them where kids are so they can adjust practice in real time,” describes Phillips. Performance assessments and portfolio reviews can be designed to give students many ways to demonstrate learning by showing us what they can do and what they create.

Educating (and Assessing) for Sustainability

Education for Sustainability (EfS) is a great fit for this trend since it is all about combining big ideas, knowledge and skill development, with being intentional about the difference we make through our actions. The good news is that we have strong data that shows that EfS improves student achievement, even on standardized tests. However, the sheer panic in public schools over test scores and the related employment implications coupled with the enormous amount of time people have devoted to test prep has severely distracted too many public school educators from being able to focus on educating for the future we want. And that’s bad news—if we want education to contribute to our ability to thrive over time. What is education for if not a healthy and sustainable future?

The District Administrator, the Gates Foundation and others would be very happy to know that Educators for Sustainability already have excellent assessment practices to share.  Here are just a few exemplars from elementary and middle schools:

Compass Charter School, Brooklyn, NY : First graders build, learn, monitor and teach about terrariums to demonstrate understanding of how living systems meet their needs.

Kapalama Middle School, Honolulu, HI: Seventh Graders write extensive research papers and create biomimetic designs that demonstrate their understanding of the science and the design principles of Biomimicry--designs that solve human problems by mimicking the way nature has already solved them-- i.e.,  Water purification, eliminating toxic chemicals [in everyday household items], generating renewable, clean, green sources of energy, eliminating waste, constructing self-repairable buildings, clearing invasive species & cleaning up oil spills.

Marin Country Day School, Corte Madera, CA: Fourth Graders participating in a “Council of All Beings” (they each make a mask and then wear it to council meeting-- to “become” the animal they want to represent) to demonstrate their ability to truly empathize with another living being.

An Invitation

We invite those of you who have (or are looking for) high quality and innovative assessments for learning that authentically measure the extent to which you are educating for sustainability, to keep your eyes peeled and respond to our call for exemplars at the end of June. In partnership with The Journal for Sustainability Education, we are inviting educators worldwide to submit exemplars of curriculum units, courses, assessments, rubrics and other forms of explicit performance criteria, as well as student work samples (with aligned performance criteria) that meet the soon to be published EfS Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning.  At the end of the day, Education for Sustainability is all about performance, because thinking drives behavior and behaviors causes results. EfS is not an intellectual exercise but rather, to human and other life in perpetuity--a means to a non-end.  The stakes are high and we need to know we are getting the results we need in order to turn “Spaceship Earth” around and head it toward the future we want.

 

- Jaimie Cloud, Founder, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

 

Monday
Mar212016

EFS in Schools: Kapalama Middle School

 Aloha! Today, we’d like to introduce you to Kapalama Middle School, located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. This native Hawaiian middle school, on one of The Kamehameha School’s three campuses, “educates children of Hawaiian ancestry to become good and industrious men and women in spirit, mind and body and to use their talents and abilities to positively contribute to the world.” Kapalama’s unique building is designed with an open floor plan and giant common spaces. Innovation is a priority here, as the school embraces Education for Sustainability, curriculum mapping, effective instructional practices, character and student leadership.

A serendipitous beginning

The Cloud Institute’s relationship with Kapalama began almost by chance.  In the Spring of 2011, Dr. Pua Kaai, Principal of Kapalama Middle School  was inspired to explore EfS after reading Jaimie’s chapter, Educating for a Sustainable Future in the book, Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World (Ed. Heidi Hayes Jacobs. 2010). Soon after, Dr. Kaai, Dr. Erika Cravalho, Middle School Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator and several other key members of the leadership team at Kapalama shared a meal with Jaimie at one of Heidi’s curriculum mapping conferences in Saratoga, New York and a productive partnership was born. Back in Hawaii, two enthusiastic Kapalama teachers volunteered to participate in The Cloud Institute’s EfS Curriculum Design Studio™ in NYC and followed that up with ongoing Skype coaching sessions with Jaimie throughout that Fall. Hoping to engage more members of the school community, leaders at Kapalama invited Jaimie out for a whole school professional development day that included a keynote address and the EfS Intro. She returned that next summer, taking the first full cohort of teachers through their own EfS Curriculum Design Studio™. Since then, Jaimie has been coaching the entire faculty and most staff members via SKYPE throughout the year. In addition, she has been making the trip to Oahu each February (someone has to do it!) to provide the full faculty PD day and to work on whole school sustainability on site. She returns  each summer to support Kapalama teachers during their Studio as they innovate, design, document, map and “sustainablize” their courses and units, assessments and performance criteria.  

“This is something we have to do”

Sustainability holds special meaning for native Hawaiians, making EfS a great fit for Kapalama. “It has been about really getting kids to think hard about how to live well within the means of nature, which is very much, what our ancestors did and what our ancestors personified. When we met Jaimie in Saratoga, the more she spoke about the work of EfS, the more I realized EfS is so much of who we are culturally at our school, and our people.  It was nice to expand our understanding of sustainability beyond the concept of reuse, reduce, recycle to include the ideas of systems thinking, sense of place, and cultural preservation and transformation,” explains Erika. “We are starting to think about how we can get our students to think critically so they can thrive in, not just our current reality, but in the future we will invent together. Working with an indigenous population of children, this is something we have to do.”  The school’s  long term commitment to this work has produced tangible results. “All of the teachers are at that point where EfS standards are part of their curriculum mapping every day. It’s operational,” describes Pua. “It’s been really interesting to see how the use of standards has evolved over the years. The trend has shifted from only focusing on content standards, like science or math, towards the EfS Standards and how the various disciplines can work together to achieve them.  It’s more holistic, culturally relevant, and it just makes more sense.” Stressing the benefits of including the whole school in this work, she says, “What we do is bigger than the classroom.  It’s about each of us shifting our mindset to thinking about our thinking, and the sustainability perspective.”

Erika points to one of Kapalama’s interdisciplinary exemplars: an extensive unit on Biomimicry that involves ELA, Science, Math, Social Studies and Technology. “It caught fire, which is a fantastic thing to watch.” Another exemplar includes a student developed planet-friendly app for increasing the regenerative capacity of the aina (Hawaiian for land). EfS at Kapalama doesn’t end when the students leave for the day. Recently a group testified about sustainable development issues at a local community meeting, showing that in-school learning has real life results.

Looking Ahead

Kapalama recognizes the importance of assessment and data collection in successfully doing this work. Jaimie’s most recent February visit focused on the question, “To what extent are we actually educating for sustainability, and to what extent are we assessing for it?”  To this end, a large scale analysis was initiated on their mapping software, Rubicon Atlas, seeking evidence of EfS content and performance indicators in the core curriculum. It took one second to “push the button” to get the data, and then Jaimie and the faculty spent the rest of the day analyzing the data and determining their strengths, gaps and next steps.

The results?  

In summary: Every team and every discipline is targeting EfS standards and indicators; all EfS standards (not all indicators yet) are being targeted in the Middle School; many but not all EfS indicators being targeted are being assessed for, and that will be the focus for the rest of this year and next.  “It was thrilling. The energy in the building was palpable,” says Jaimie. "There is so much is going on and more to do, as always." In addition to assessment, calibration and the development of EfS performance criteria, the rest of the remaining work in the sixth and final year of this long term contract will focus on fully passing the “baton” to the team who will carry the work forward in perpetuity.  Or in Hawaiian, Mau loa "forever"...

 

Thursday
Mar172016

Teachable Moment: Green Ribbon Schools

This year, for the first time, I served as a NJ reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School Awards.  It was thrilling.  I never really understood the value of points and awards as incentives to engage folks and improve practice. I am a believer now. In this program, a Green School is defined as having three pillars of excellence:  Pillar ONE: Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs; Pillar TWO: Improved Health and Wellness, and Pillar THREE: Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The criteria for Pillars ONE and TWO are comprehensive, and here in NJ, we are working on Pillar THREE to make it as robust as the first two.  

The most interesting part of the process for me was the discourse between the reviewers about the subjectivity of the rubric. The rubric is a tool that guides the committee in reviewing the applications and is modified as the program evolves and grows. This year, we struggled with questions like, “What should we do if a school or district is trying hard and wants to reduce its energy use but has intervening circumstances, such as building a new building, finally getting air-conditioning, or dealing with particularly cold or hot weather the prior year? Could we give them points if they didn't actually reduce energy, even if we know for a fact that they are really, really trying? After much discussion, we had to conclude that evidence is evidence—no matter how hard you try.

It was a tough call. This is where the “different way of thinking” embedded in Education for Sustainability comes in.  If a district wants to reduce energy AND build new buildings AND get air-conditioning, they should be able to do just that.  But first, they need to change their mindset. 

Once they:

  • involve the children and young people
  • calculate the budget of energy, time, bio capacity and money that they have to work with
  • learn to tap the power of limits 
  • make small changes for the greatest effect
  • eliminate waste 
  • set a goal of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and then track their progress toward that goal
  • think differently about how they are going to solve more than one problem at a time and minimize the creation of new problems 

Then they can have it all—albeit not necessarily all at the same time.

Change the mindset, change the world.

 

- Jaimie Cloud, Founder, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

Thursday
Feb112016

Keep Calm and Lead On: Practice really does make perfect! 

 

We all know that person… focused, positive, kind and able to bounce forward from even the most challenging circumstances.  You may think that these sought after qualities are hard wired in certain folks and out of reach for the rest of us. Well, according to the latest scientific research, we can actually “learn” these skills, much in the same way as we would master a musical instrument.  The secret?  Practice!

In the article, How Science Reveals that “Well-being” is a Skill, world renowned neuroscientist Richard Davidson makes the case that by practicing the skills of well-being, we can get better at them.  He breaks well-being into four “constituents” or skills: resilience, outlook, attention and generosity -- each well researched and documented in the field.  He claims that if strengthened, we can all promote higher levels of well-being, regardless of our personalities or circumstances. What does that have to do with contributing to a sustainable future?  Everything. Well-being is what we are striving for when we say we want a sustainable future for all. Dr. Davidson’s attributes of well-being are also listed as learning outcomes of Education for Sustainability. In other words, if we develop and practice them, we are better positioned to make a contribution to a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.  So well-being is a “two-fer”-- simultaneously our preferred future AND the means to get there.

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Monday
Jan252016

STEM, STEAM or STS?

When I first heard about STEM, I thought, “Oh—it’s the new and improved Science, Technology and Society (STS)!” But no, Society did not seem to play a part in the new equation.  I looked for benchmarks for quality STEM.  And, no again.   Then I asked people about what it really was, and they spelled out the acronym for me: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  I knew what the acronym stood for, I wanted to know what it meant i.e., what goal it was in the service of, and what problem it was designed to address.  I discovered it was generally understood that our students were not performing well in science and math compared to many other countries with whom we were competing in the global market place.  STEM seemed like a robust way to address that…problem?  symptom?

Then I heard that a significant investment of funds was to be made by government and private institutions to support STEM initiatives that increased students interest in, and preparedness for Job Readiness in the 21st Century.  OK—That I could understand.  That seemed like a good idea.  If we want education to contribute to a sustainable future for us all, we will need to design and re-design infrastructure, buildings, food and transportation systems, and we will have to be cognoscente of the Earth’s carrying capacity.  If we had all been able to “do the math” since the turn of the century, one could argue that we would not have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity in the 1980s.  Doing the math helps us identify and tap the power of limits.  So I began to think I understood what STEM was for.  As I continued to look for quality criteria for STEM programs, I came across the idea of STEAM. Since the arts have been so marginalized in our schools systems, I thought it was a creative idea to make sure arts and creativity was added to STEM to make STEAM.  Of course once you add the arts, then all you have to do is add the Humanities and you have school—all over again. 

So, why not make the same significant investment in transforming our schools into learning organizations that can prepare our students to thrive in the 21st Century? When that happens, students experience truly interdisciplinary design challenges that weave together the science, technology, engineering and math with creativity, ethics, systems thinking and anticipatory thinking, for example.  When that happens, students seamlessly move from class to class weaving together the experiences they are having into an integrated and whole understanding of what they are studying. When that happens, it is obvious that what they are learning in school is relevant and meaningful, applicable and transferable to life outside of school and over time.  And when that happens, our students will be more likely to contribute to a healthy and sustainable future for us all. 

- Jaimie Cloud for The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education