From the Executive Directo r: Tackling Today's Challenges to Engineer a Sustainable Future

What were some of the toys you played with as a child? Did you own a set of Legos, Lincoln logs, or tinker toys? How about games like Jenga or Dominos? Maybe you liked to build models - cars, airplanes, buildings. The common thread linking these childhood favorites, believe it or not, is that each one involves some form of engineering.
The fact is, children are natural engineers. They ask questions, build things, and take things apart. They use their imagination to create and aren't afraid to fail. For a long time, we asked children to check their natural engineering inclinations at the door when they entered school. Engineering was relegated to the halls of academia, a discipline to pursue in college or at a trade school. However, the challenges we face to create a sustainable future demand that we reverse course and re-frame how we look at engineering and how it fits into the K-12 curriculum.
At its heart, engineering is all about problem-solving. How can we take a problem or process and make it better? Used in the classroom, the engineering design process (ask, research, imagine, plan, create, test, improve) teaches students to develop a problem-solving (and growth) mindset. It teaches students to learn from failure, adapt, and think outside the box to create solutions. 
In 2008, an international group of leading thinkers assembled by the National Academy of Engineering identified 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century. These challenges include several that relate to sustainability - improving infrastructure, developing alternative energy resources, increasing access to clean water, ensuring sustainable food production, and addressing climate change. In this issue of GreenNotes, we introduce you to schools and organizations that are taking on these Grand Challenges and encouraging students to ask, research, imagine, plan, create, test, and improve. From using nature-inspired design to engineer solutions to real-world problems, to cross curricular projects that integrate engineering concepts in all core subjects, to participating in a wide range of design competitions - I am certain the following stories will inspire you to explore how your school or district can make engineering a key part of the K-12 curriculum.
Today's students shouldn't have to wait until college or trade school to get excited about engineering. By giving them opportunities to make, fail, and try again we are feeding their creative spirit and creating the next generation of problem-solvers who will shape the 22nd century.
Learning to Think in Wild New Ways with the Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge

Gretchen Hooker, Program Manager at the Biomimicry Institute, shares how the Biomimicry Institute's Youth Design Challenge, pilot tested in Spring 2018, is inspiring students to use the natural world as a model for sustainable design solutions and to think differently about nature, engineering, and the future.
NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering - An Anchor for STEM Education

David Schwenker, Principal at Wake STEM Early College High School , discusses how his school uses the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges for Engineering as the foundation for learning and projects where students create solutions for real-world problems by thinking like an engineer. 
Empowering Students to Change the World with the Grand Challenges for Engineering

Cynthia Burt, Associate Principal at Tesla STEM High School, describes the various ways the Grand Challenges for Engineering are woven into the curriculum, from grounding students in science, engineering, and the humanities as freshmen and sophomores to informing lab experiences and internships as juniors and seniors.
Using Grand Challenges as a Framework to Change the World

Dr. Jimmie Cave and Lauren Kelly of The STEM Academy at Bartlett, along with Peter Ulrich of Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, discuss how the Grand Challenges for Engineering serve as a framework for curriculum design at The STEM Academy, supporting student learning through research, design, and application to solve real-world problems in the classroom and the community. 
Kearney High School has Sustainability at Core of Engineering, Innovation, and Design Track

Nicole Grucky, Project Coordinator at Strategic Environmental Innovations, shares how Kearney High School's School of Engineering, Innovation, and Design is using a Linked Learning approach in its Environmental Engineering class to engage students in interdisciplinary projects that solve real-world challenges. 
From Stems to STEM

Helping young children learn about plants through engineering design. Reprinted with permission from Green Teacher magazine and originally authored by Lauren Madden and Courtney McGovern.
GSNN Educator's Toolbox: Professional Development, Resources, Grants, and Awards for October

The latest professional development opportunities, resources, grants, and awards for October.  
Read the Fall 2018 Catalyst Quarterly!

Everyone has a role to play in creating sustainable, healthy, and resilient communities, including schools. The Fall 2018 Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly explores how schools are responding to this charge, from working with their communities to implement climate action plans and bounce back from natural disasters to inspiring students to solve local challenges. Resiliency is cultivated within schools too, and this issue will introduce you to schools that are creating resilient students through trauma-informed education and mindfulness practices. 

Carry the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly wherever you go! Get  the app from  iTunesGoogle Play, or Amazon  today.  

In Other News...

Green Schools National Network's blog shares timely stories and news from Catalyst Network Schools and School Districts, Network sponsors and partners, and others involved in advocating for green, healthy, and sustainable schools. Check out some of our most recent blog posts below!

W rite for GreenNotes!

Green Schools National Network's newsletter, GreenNotes, focuses on one overarching topic each month. We will consider articles for the month that best matches the topic. Have a question about an upcoming theme? Contact
We are looking for a variety of articles for GreenNotes, including:
  • Case studies of schools and school districts doing exemplary work in environmental and sustainability initiatives.
  • Profiles of leaders and advocates in the green schools movement.
  • News and current events of interest to the green schools movement.
Themes for the next three issues include:

Net-Zero: Waste and Energy - November 2018
Submission deadline: November 2, 2018

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Net-Zero means consuming only as much energy as is produced, achieving a sustainable balance between water availability and demand, and eliminating solid waste sent to landfills. Net-zero can seem like an ambitious goal, but schools and school districts across the U.S. are adopting practices to make this goal a reality. This issue of GreenNotes will introduce you to some of those schools and school districts, highlight their best practices and lessons learned, and explore the latest trends in reducing energy use, conserving water, and eliminating waste.

Green Schools and the Community - January 2019
Submission deadline: January 4, 2019

Schools are widely recognized as centers of their communities, places where people gather to learn, celebrate, and take shelter in times of crisis. More and more, schools are adopting the mantle of climate resiliency, preparing students for the social, environmental, and economic challenges of the 21st century. In this issue of GreenNotes, you will meet some of the schools and school districts who are on the leading edge of this movement, and learn how their leadership and curriculum are having an impact on their communities.

Leadership in Green Schools - February 2019
Submission deadline: February 1, 2019

School leaders face many demands, from tight budgets and meeting standards to providing learning environments that are equitable and encourage academic achievement. Green school leaders are tackling these demands using a sustainability mindset; a clear, inspiring vision; and a desire to engage with the world beyond the classroom walls. In this issue of GreenNotes, you will meet some of the leaders who are creating vibrant school cultures that equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century workforce and as citizens in a global community.
Work with Green Schools National Network!

Green Schools National Network's professional development and coaching services are designed to help schools and school districts adopt sustainability practices that align with their strategic goals. Our work is guided by the GreenPrintâ„¢ for Green, Healthy, and Sustainable Schools and its five core principles: curriculum, stewardship, facilities and operations, health and well-being, and leadership. Along with our professional development collaborative partners, we are positioned to help schools and school districts adopt a culture of sustainability that permeates every aspect of education: planning, policy development, program implementation, finances, curricula, teaching, learning, assessment, and administration.

So...what can Green Schools National Network do for you? Joel Tolman,  Director of Impact & Engagement for Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut, shares how the Teaching Our Cities project, in partnership with Green Schools National Network, is using the urban environment as a classroom to help city students grow into the next generation of environmental leaders.

Teaching Our Cities at Urban Environmental High Schools
It's only the second month of the school year, but Anthony Mitchell and Dayanara Chacon -- both sophomores at Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut -- are already breaking down the walls between their classroom and the community. Both students are part of Common Ground's new 10th Grade Core, which integrates science, social studies, and English to answer big questions about the City of New Haven. Just in September, they've been out in New Haven for two day-long field experiences, and community members have pushed into their classrooms several more times -- helping students gather stories and information that they will use to create digital maps and websites about their local environment.  You can read more about what they are up to on Common Ground's blog.

Dayanara and other Common Ground 10th graders explore environmental and social justice issues in the Fair Haven neighborhood -- on-site wind generation and urban agriculture in the foreground, and a portion of the U.S. strategic oil reserve and U.S. Route 95 in the background.

This isn't the only way in which Dayanara and Anthony are blurring the lines between school and the surrounding urban environment. Anthony is part of a team of students working with a local theater company to design a new course, taught by professional actors, on Common Ground's campus, which will earn students credit from our local state university. Dayanara is excited about two other new electives, both taught by non-traditional teachers: a Child Development & Environmental Education course taught by an outdoor educator, and a race and identity studies class co-taught by a youth organizer. How do all these opportunities in the "wider learning ecosystem" connect? In fact, Dayanara, Anthony, and two other student interns are right now working on a diagram and video that show how Common Ground students follow four-year pathways to environmental leadership, college success, sustainable lives, and meaningful careers -- starting with experiences on Common Ground's urban farm and 20-acre site, and moving out into the larger community. It's a little messy at the moment -- you can see an early draft below -- but it's getting clearer with the help of these students and a community of support much larger than our small school.

Dayanara, Anthony, and other student interns are creating a graphic that shares Common Ground's school model: interdisciplinary core experiences in 9th and 10th grade, and choice-rich pathways in 11th and 12th grades.

Dayanara and Anthony's experiences are part of something bigger -- a project called Teaching Our Cities , which brings together five urban public high schools across the Northeast United States. Teaching Our Cities aims to help city students grow into a new, inclusive, powerful generation of environmental leaders and successful college students by mobilizing the urban environment as the classroom for urban public high schools. The four schools involved in the project come together three times a year to share and critique each other's' work, look at data on students' growth as leaders, and develop and get feedback on new curriculum. It's a strong community of practice, all aiming to create more experiences like the ones Dayanara and Anthony are having at Common Ground.

Students from urban environmental high schools across the Northeast compare their experiences, with teachers and school leaders listening in.

The Teaching Our Cities network is small and tight -- five schools, in five cities, teaching just over 1,500 students. But, in partnership with the Green Schools National Network (GSNN), we hope to create larger ripples, as well. Two of our Teaching Our Cities schools -- Common Ground and New Roots in Ithaca, New York -- are part of the Catalyst Schools Network, the national group of model green schools that GSNN has created. Through this network, we get to connect with peer schools in other parts of the country and tap into support from GSNN Executive Director Jenny Seydel and other national green schools experts. Over time, we hope that Teaching Our Cities can inspire other regional networks of urban schools, recognizing the urban environment is a uniquely powerful learning environment, and that city students are our next generation of environmental leaders.  

Ready to get started?

Contact for more information on the range of professional services that Green Schools National Network has to offer schools and school districts.

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