Schools are pioneering new approaches to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum through environmental education. But understanding how to teach green lessons in an engaging way, while also satisfying educational requirements, can be a challenge to the average time- and budget-strapped teacher.
One teacher in the South Bronx has perfected an approach to environmental education that’s working in one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country. Stephen Ritz, an educational innovator and award-winning teacher at Community School 55, has built an amazing and interactive classroom farm demonstration project. On any given day students might be found reading aloud to plants, pedaling bikes to power a smoothie blender or comparing fresh vegetable recipes from their own diverse ethnic traditions.
Now Ritz is sharing what he’s learned about STEM curriculum design and environmental education over his 30-year career in a new book, The Power of a Plant: A Teacher’s Odyssey to Grow Healthy Minds and Schools.
This Edutopia article offers five tips from Ritz’s book for presenting thoughtful, engaging lessons on sustainability:
1. Put plants at the center.
2. Find a champion, then recruit allies and partners.
3. Hack the food system.
4. Grow curiosity.
5. Think globally, grow locally.
By putting plants at the center of the class—both physically and ideologically—Ritz encourages hands-on, STEM-based learning across grade levels and disciplines. Math-oriented kids can collect data about plant growth and young scientists can create experiments, while older students develop technical career skills.
“If it works in the South Bronx, it can work anywhere,” Ritz says.
CS-55 has already seen measurable improvements in attendance and academic performance tied to Ritz’s approach to green teaching and learning.
Schools everywhere are increasing the sustainability of their operations, especially through renewable energy projects such as solar PV (photovoltaics), which provide real-world opportunities to integrate STEM-based and career-focused learning for K-12 students.