University of Rochester

New Interdisciplinary Curriculum Enables Schools to Pioneer Global Environmental Sustainability Efforts

May 13, 2010

A new interdisciplinary curriculum in environmental sustainability will help two independent schools in the U.S. and Africa to educate and lead communities toward a more sustainable energy future by teaching about the science, maintenance, and use of energy technologies. Fifth- and sixth-grade students from Greater Rochester and Uganda will soon engage in cross-cultural dialogues about how energy and other resources are used in their schools in an effort to solve larger sustainability and environmental issues.

The Harley School, located in Brighton, N.Y., and Circle of Peace School, located in Makindye, Uganda, are both at the cutting edge of integrating education for sustainability into their classrooms and operating their facilities with renewable energy. Resource sustainability has become a focus at The Harley School, leading to an onsite organic garden and a new energy-efficient campus facility. In 2009, AHEAD Energy, a Rochester-based nonprofit, worked with the Circle of Peace School to install efficient institutional cook stoves, solar photovoltaic panels for onsite electricity generation, and energy-efficient lighting.

Research on curriculum, learning, and assessment, conducted by faculty and students from the University of Rochester, will help middle school students at both schools to gain a better understanding of renewable energy and how to operate the systems installed at their schools. Unlike more traditional curricula that guide students on how to think, this curriculum is unique in that it will encourage students to generate questions to pursue around issues of sustainability, efficiency, and cultures.

"Central to global awareness is an understanding of different cultural perspectives," says Tim Cottrell, head of school at The Harley School. "This is a wonderful opportunity for students from Circle of Peace and The Harley School to share their life experience and grow as citizens of the world."

A collaboration between the two schools has been spearheaded by David Hursh, an associate professor at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education who has a passion for integrating sustainability issues into school curricula. Hursh has worked with Ben Ebenhack, a faculty member in the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Elaina Stover, an undergraduate student at the University, to develop the curriculum. In May, Hursh and Stover will begin co-teaching at The Harley School and then Hursh will travel to Uganda where he will work with teachers to pilot educational initiatives at Circle of Peace School.

At both schools the University of Rochester team will use a collaborative, experiential approach aimed at equipping students and teachers to develop expertise that can be shared with others at the school and in the wider community. Renewable energy technologies will form the basis for teaching science principles and investigating the impact technology has on people's lives.

Students at both schools will use Internet teleconferencing to communicate directly with one another. "They will use technology, art, and media to learn about building sustainable communities and to discuss solutions," says Stover.

Hursh adds, "Our goal is to develop cross-cultural understanding and support for one another around sustainability issues. Our efforts will allow children to see the world through different eyes, resulting in a global perspective for future generations."

Hursh, Ebenhack and Stover's novel approach has caught the attention of educators around the world, and Hursh has been invited to present their work to the World Congress of Comparative Education Societies meeting in Istanbul, Turkey in June.

Hursh has written extensively on school reform, educational policy, and action research. He has previous experience working with educators in South Africa, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. His most recent book is High Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education.

For the last two decades, Ebenhack's research and teaching have focused on energy, development, and global energy transitions. A former oil company executive, Ebenhack is the founder of AHEAD Energy and a noted speaker and writer.

Stover is a Take Five Scholar. In 2009, she was an operations assistant for The Earth Institute's Millennium Villages Project in Mwandama, Malawi. She previously conducted health research in Ghana, West Africa.




Facebook