Sustainability for Students

For the past few years I’ve had a chance to work on a variety of projects around Sustainability and Education. In 2016 I initiated a conversation with Chatham University, South Fayette, and Fort Cherry School Districts around Sustainable Issues. This led to the Seeds of Change conference that will occur this year on March 4, 2019 at the Eden Hall campus of Chatham. I have also worked on a variety of Sustainability Design Challenges for the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with schools from the Parkway West Consortium of Schools. We’ve looked at food, gardening, water management, and energy issues. I’m just beginning to develop Sustainable Energy projects around solar and other sustainable energies with a local Pittsburgh company, AYA Instruments, and the Community Day School of Pittsburgh.

Sustainability projects are also growing worldwide. Birdbrain Technologies, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company,  found its way to the 2019 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Each year Salesforce.com sponsors an activity around sustainability and recycling. Here’s a blurb from the Birdbrain Chirps that outlines what happened. (Make sure you check out the video at the end of the article.)

Leaders of over 100 governments and more than 1,000 global businesses came together at this annual meeting to create an agenda to improve the state of the world. And with programming and robotics as a vehicle, students were able to have a seat at the table.

Educator Su Adams from the United Kingdom helped lead students in Salesforce’s Davos Code 2019 event, where they were prompted to create a window display to show how they plan to keep plastics out of the ocean. This display was showcased for leaders to see throughout the course of the forum.

“The learning opportunities reached much further than programming alone can achieve, as students were tasked with turning process-based sentences into a visual representation for their collective diorama,” Adams says.

Prior to the event students began collecting plastics in Davos, which were repurposed into new creations at Davos Code 2019. Students used their own shredder and moulder machines to create their building blocks. With the help of the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, models were brought to life to illustrate their messages about plastic reuse.

This project had a monumental effect outside of the World Economic Forum. “Previously, very little plastic was recycled in the local community,” says Adams. “Following a campaign which spanned just 6 months, students affected change at a local government level when the municipality of Davos provided bins for recycling in their local environment. The diorama provided the perfect medium for celebrating the achievements of their campaign.”

By demonstrating better uses for plastic through their robotics diorama, a sustainable impact was made in the community for generations to come.

Adams summarizes, “There were highs and lows, frustrations and jubilance. Everyone experienced the payback that investment of time, effort, and teamwork provide.”

LEARN MORE by watching this video

Transformations

Over the holiday season a new Transformer movie appeared. There’s something engaging about the concept of transforming from one concept or shape to another. In education transformations are also quite engaging and worth investigating. This past semester I coordinated two Design Challenges for the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with schools from the Parkway West Consortium of Schools. Each Design Challenge required the student consultants to think out of the box and come up with a transformative set of ideas.

Student teams from Parkway West, Quaker Valley, and Keystone Oaks tackled the transformative challenge of “Rebranding Careers.” How do we rethink the language and images to describe technical workers? How do we change the perceptions of students and parents regarding the value of alternative choices to a college program? The student consultants developed a website with a marketing campaign, an app, and a video to address the transformative questions.

It was fascinating to watch the student consulting teams go through their own transformations. The student teams had to learn to work with not only their own team members, but with fellow consultants from other schools. The design process of moving from a set of questions to a solution requires an ability to listen to a client’s needs. For most students this is a transformative challenge. Our traditional school approach is based on a teacher-focused orientation. Students respond to the need of the teacher who, in turn is trying to look at a standard or final outcome that is built into a curriculum. What happens when you transform this process? How do teachers and students handle their roles as facilitators and consultants?

For the student teams and teachers it takes time to adjust to this challenge. However, the final product for the Rebranding Careers Design Challenge demonstrated the success for the process. What could have been three individual projects,  turned into one website that linked to each of the student consulting teams ideas. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center responded positively to the student products and intends to seek further funding to work on the prototypes shared by the consulting team.

The Bedford Facade Design Challenge had similar positive effects based on the student consulting teams’ efforts. In this case teams from South Fayette, Chartiers Valley, and Parkway West collaborated to generate a three-tiered lighting plan for the original entrance of the Energy Innovation Center erected in 1930 as the Connelley Trade School. The Design Challenge process I use enlists the aid of a series of professional experts who work with the student consultants from the kick-off through the final presentation. For this Design Challenge the Energy Innovation Center brought to the table two experts from the Duquesne Light Company of Pittsburgh. The experts explained at the kickoff that consultants often outline different financial packages in their response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The student consulting teams took this to heart and delivered silver, gold, and platinum options for the Design Challenge.

For the student consultants the ability to think about multiple solutions was a transformative moment. In our traditional classes we tend to look for one solution that is already known, but for this Design Challenge the notion that there could be multiple approaches for a problem was quite challenging for the student teams. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center, praised this approach. It met the real needs for the project. Now the Energy Innovation Center has a much better idea on the actual costs and what would be associated with each option.

I also wanted the student teams to use a model for the building as part of their presentation. The students don’t usually think about three-dimensional elements to explain an idea. The team of students from Parkway West welded a metal model that became the key for each consultant as they visually explained how each part of the solution would work. For instance, when the student consultants talked about the use of a Lumatrix lighting solution, they were able to point to the model to indicate exactly where the projection system would go.

The key to the final success for the Design Challenge will be the actual transformation for the Bedford Avenue facade at the Energy Innovation Center. The student consulting teams outlined a thorough proposal that included CAD drawings, a cost analysis, and a 3-dimensional model for the site. The Energy Innovation Center will now look at opportunities to use the student ideas to transform the building to highlight the rich history of the building and its bright future as a center for sustainability.

Real World Learning: Design Challenges

For the past two years I’ve worked with the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) Consortium of Schools and the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) to develop a series of real world Design Challenges. There are some lessons I’ve learned:

  • Identify the students teams as consultants. Make the students aware of the role of a consultant and the importance of addressing the needs of the client. Work with the teacher facilitators to frame the problem in ways that relate to the students and allow teams to work collaboratively.
  • Bring in experts from Day 1. We have each kick-off event at the EIC. Bob Meeder, the CEO of the EIC, arranges for a team of experts, or as he calls them “bosses,” to work with the student consulting teams.
  • Frame the challenge around a Request for Proposal (RFP). In the business world RFPs are the documents that outline the expectations of the client. The consulting team has to address the project based on the client’s needs.
  • Use a human-centered design process to move the project along. I’ve had an opportunity to undergo training through the LUMA Institute. The LUMA framework, developed through a meta-analysis of the best strategies in design thinking, helps to shape the problem more succinctly and provides the focus on the target population.

Visualizing the vote for Concept Posters

Here are some ways I’ve worked these principles into a series of Design Challenges with high school students this fall. To start the challenge the student consultants walk through the Energy Innovation Center and use a LUMA strategy called “Fly on the Wall.” They use the camera on their phones to document everything that they see. At the kick-off they develop questions they need to address based on the RFP. Experts from the business, non-profit, or other arenas, begin to answer the student questions. At the midpoint I bring the students back together. (Between the kickoff and midpoint the student teams work with their teacher facilitators conducting research into the RFP issues. Sometimes the teams get together and other times they go their separate ways.)

For this year’s two Design Challenges I used a LUMA recipe – a combination of strategies – at the midpoint session. For a Food Menu Item Design Challenge where the student consultants from South Fayette, Carlynton, and PWCTC had to come up with their best ideas for the forthcoming EIC Healthy Cafe, I needed a way to identify the best choices. Each student consultant created what LUMA calls a “Concept Poster” for their food item and then had to pitch the idea to their colleagues and a team of experts that included people in the food industries. Each consultant and expert then chose the three best ideas and put dots on the Concept Poster – LUMA’s “Visualizing the Vote.” This combination of strategies narrowed the choices, but there was an issue – could the choices work in a cafe environment in a cost-effective manner? Fortunately, I had a team of student experts who were studying Culinary Arts and their teacher, a chef from the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. The chef with the student consultants then examined the top choices that would be prototyped in the PWCTC kitchens.

Concept Poster to pitch ideas

The second Design Challenge focused on the renovation of an existing space – Innovation Hall- at the EIC. The student consultant teams from Keystone Oaks and Chartiers Valley worked in four teams – lighting technologies, smart technologies, surface technologies, and furnishings. At the midpoint each team developed a “Concept Poster” and then each consultant and expert working on the project responded by placing a red note for a Great Idea, a green note for a promising idea that needed some further thinking, or a brown note for an idea that might not work. LUMA calls this strategy “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” Once the teams received the feedback from the other teams and experts, they had to revise their plan.

In both Design Challenges the LUMA strategies provided great ways to get all students involved in a collaborative manner. The consulting teams had to use communication skills that included visualizing ideas. The teams had to analyze feedback and revise (iterate) their ideas.

We’re not done yet. The final presentations will take place in the next month, but one of the Design Challenges from last year will soon have a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  What’s better than having the student consultants actually see their ideas implemented?

Sharing a prototype

Last year three teams of students worked on the installation of a windmill at the EIC. Consultants from Carlynton High School came up with a very original model using a Hummingbird Kit from Birdbrain Technologies. A second team from PWCTC’s Electrical Studies program devised a storage and power strategy for the RFP, while the third team from West Allegheny developed an educational strategy to instruct visitors at the EIC about wind energy and sustainable energies. In December members from the original Design Team will join Windstax Technologies, key members of the EIC, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and the County Executive of Allegheny County in a ribbon cutting ceremony – a great real world celebration for a challenging real world problem.