Sustainability in the Curriculum
From systems thinking in the Lower School to Environmental Science courses in the Upper School, WT students explore and learn about sustainability through a variety of courses, units, City as Our Campus experiences, and thematic approaches to learning.
Outdoor Classroom Environments in Lower School
- Noteworthy Outdoor Learning: The North Hills Campus at WT is included in Natural Start
Alliance’s compilation of Nature Preschools and nature education programs. The Natural
Start Alliance, a project of the North American Association for Environmental
Education, is a coalition of educators, parents, organizations,
and others who strive to help young children connect with nature and care for the
environment. The listing highlights the North Hills Campus’ natural landscape, amenities,
and resources, including the fields, gardens, the spring-fed pond, natural
playground, and student-designed Northbound Trail.
- The Northbound Trail: Constructed from scratch by students and faculty, the Northbound Trail at the North Hills Campus is an engineering feat as well as an educational resource on native plant species. Students planned, designed, and constructed the trail, which includes a log cabin, waypoint markers, and educational stopping points.
- The Pond at the North Hills Campus: A spring-fed pond on this seven-acre campus serves as a laboratory for firsthand study of water and wildlife.
- City Campus Outdoor Classrooms: Newly renovated in 2013, the outdoor classroom features a green roof playhouse and a variety of gardens and planting spaces, and extends scientific learning to the outdoors. The Green Roof Playhouse, designed especially for WT’s outdoor classroom, was one of two schools nationally to receive a Commendation of Excellence by the Centiva Green School Innovation Grant.
- “Kinder-gardeners” Cultivate a Sustainable Harvest in the City Campus Vegetable Garden: In the spring of 2014, Chef Andrew worked alongside the Kindergarten class, guiding students through the process of planting an array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in WT’s Vegetable Garden. A recent article on Food Management highlighted WT’s efforts to incorporate the harvest from the garden to WT’s lunch menu as well as its efforts to connect the Kindergarten’s outdoor gardening to their classroom education.
Sample Curricular Programs
Lower School’s Focus on Systems Thinking: A goal of the Lower School at WT is to ensure that students leave their elementary years with an understanding of the interconnectedness of systems. Beginning in Pre-K, where children learn that most things are made up of parts, through fifth grade, where they begin to understand how systems themselves are interconnected, students at WT explore the interdependence and complexities of communities, machines, cultures, ecosystems, and our world.
In Kindergarten, science education is focused on the theme of “growing.” This includes substantial time learning about and experimenting with the growing cycle of plants. Students learn through hands-on activities that include planting and nurturing the seedlings for WT’s Vegetable Garden. As the new outdoor classroom takes shape at WT, this focus on growth will expand to understanding the impact that plants have on the environment, through planting and maintaining a green roof on the Green Roof Playhouse.
Watersheds in Fifth Grade: A two-month unit on watersheds includes study of the water cycle, how to test water quality, food chains, and webs that depend on the local watershed. Students take trips to ALCOSAN and on the Riverquest research boat, where they take water samples on the river. Through a City as Our Campus partnership with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, students work in Frick Park to assess biological and chemical water quality.
Overnight trips in Fourth and Fifth Grade provide opportunities for immersion in the natural world. Fourth graders travel to Lutherlyn, a 660-acre environmental center, for an overnight environmental education program. Fifth graders travel to The Mountain Institute as a culmination of their Lower School years.
Middle School Science focuses on many aspects of the environment, including insects and ecology; weather, atmosphere, and climate change; water quality and water pollution, global environmental problems, energy systems, and oceans.
Middle School Leadership Academy: By applying themselves to real-world situations, witnessing the difference they can make, and reflecting upon the impact they can have, Middle School students become community contributors through the Leadership Academy. Each class in the Middle School chooses a cause to support over the course of three years. The Class of 2018 selected sustainability, and has been working with four local organizations: GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution); GTECH (Growth Through Energy and Community Health); the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy; and ALCOSAN (Allegheny County Sanitary Authority). By visiting with and learning from these organizations, students determined that they could serve as an educational resource on various ways citizens can preserve and care for their local environment. They have developed and produced a number of educational videos for ALCOSAN, heightened environmental awareness throughout the WT community on Earth Day with an Own Clothes Day and reusable water bottle fundraiser to benefit GTECH, which turns blighted vacant lots into thriving community green and garden spaces, among other initiatives. And, they are developing an educational board game for Lower School students. As eighth graders, they plan to work with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to rebuild the Frick Environmental Center and to build a green bus shelter near the corner of Forbes and Braddock Avenues – the second such shelter in Pittsburgh.
Upper School Science Courses allow for a variety of opportunities for students to engage in learning about sustainability. Students interested in project-based learning have the option to take Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Biology in lieu of more traditional chemistry and biology courses. These courses approach similar content to the traditional science courses through environmental themes. In Environmental Chemistry, students explore the effects of increasing carbon dioxide levels on ocean acidification and the subsequent effects on the fishing industry. Applied Environmental Science and Ecology is a research-based biotechnology course that introduces students to experimental methods and data collection associated with aspects of sustainability like invasive species and genetically modified foods.
- Creating new uses for soda bottles by redesigning the cap
- Engineering rovers that monitor soil moisture for farmers
- Creating shade structures to lower evaporation in reservoirs
- Fabricating sensors that track air quality