Learning Landscapes for Teaching Science and Sustainability

Something exciting is taking place at the University Laboratory School: worms are eating garbage, fish are feeding plants, butterflies are living in luxury and kids are learning first hand that a sustainable future is possible. Projects throughout the school are helping students truly understand, appreciate, and make informed decisions regarding the natural world.

Under the broad umbrellas of the Learning Through Our Landscape program in the elementary and Project Pono in the secondary, ULS students are engaged in an exciting array of sustainability projects and activities.

Learning Landscapes

In six short months, starting at the beginning of 2010, the teachers, students, and families in the ULS elementary school transformed their environment into a learning landscape that is a showcase for environmental sustainability and community building. An organic garden, an aquaponics system, vermicomposting bins, a water garden, a Monarch butterfly habitat, a vertical garden, and a rainwater catchment system can all be found in the elementary school’s outdoor space.

The new focus builds seamlessly on CRDG’s Developmental Approaches in Science, Health and Technology (DASH), a hands-on, inquiry based elementary program that includes food and nutrition; conservation, recycling, and decomposition; and energy among its ten clusters. The elementary teachers—with help from the families in the form of time, expertise, and in-kind contributions from the community in the form of grants—expanded the gardening, energy, and food and nutrition aspects of the DASH program to include a focus on where our food comes from and the environmental and social implications of our food choices.

Over three hundred people—families, ULS students and teachers, CRDG faculty, and community members—attended the first annual garden celebration in May 2010 where the students acted as docents, explaining what was there and how they used the garden. Students and their families maintained the garden throughout the summer to so it was ready to start the new school year.

Scenic Hawai‘i, Inc., an organization that promotes and carries out programs that protect Hawai‘i’s natural beauty, sponsors the annual Betty Crocker landscape awards to honor the best of Hawai‘i’s garden and landscape projects and the individuals who are instrumental in their creation. The students, teachers, and families at ULS won the award in the Volunteers, Community and Non-profit Groups category this year for the Learning Through Our Landscape project. As second/third grade teacher Laurie Faure wrote in the application, “the sustainable garden project is a source of sustenance for bodies and souls.” Vice Principal Peter Estomago and kindergarten/first grade teacher Terry Starko accepted the award on behalf of the school.