With every day bringing new headlines about the dangers of climate change, extreme weather, and a warming planet, the need for innovation and bold solutions to avoid climate catastrophe grows greater. As evidenced by the number of countries that signed on to the Paris Agreement on climate, and the recent discussion of a Green New Deal in the U.S., many
Russell Hazard, Director of the Teaching, Learning and Innovation Center at Aidi School/NIT Education Group – Beijing/Shanghai, thinks that integrating ideas and concepts about sustainability into education, at all levels, is a good starting point. Hazard explains that using concepts taken from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) curricula can help lay the foundation for students to be better prepared for a future that may look very different from the present. Russell Hazard believes that this kind of sustainability-focused STEM/STEAM education not only helps students develop a genuinely value-added mindset but also contributes to making them more employable in growing industries like renewable energy, climate change mitigation, and a range of social/environmental venture related fields that will become more prominent in the future. Supporting the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals has therefore become a guiding principle for programming at Aidi School.
Educators like Amanda Hewitt, STEM coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, Colorado, are already putting the concepts that Hazard mentions into practice. Hewitt led a field trip for 10 seventh and eighth grade STEM campers in the Walking Mountains summer program to the community solar project overseen by GRID Alternatives and Holy Cross Energy in Gypsum, Colorado.
Hewitt said about the trip, “I am extremely excited about this project because it is in line with Walking Mountains’ mission to show and demonstrate sustainability to youth through STEM. I’m especially excited to get girls interested in STEM careers. STEM and sustainability just go hand in hand together.”
Sybil S. Kelley and Dilafruz Williams, of Portland State University, have advocated for a similar approach to the one that Hazard has espoused: a tight integration of sustainability and STEM education. In their article Integrating STEM and Sustainability Education through Learning Gardens in Clearing magazine, Kelley and Williams discuss using community gardens as a productive environment for teaching students both STEM and sustainability concepts. “STEM and sustainability education are complementary and should be brought together in mainstream education,” the authors write. Russell Hazard has also advocated for the development of specific learning spaces, like innovation labs, to help students explore the intersection of STEM and sustainability concepts through multidisciplinary work that culminates in real world Sustainable Development Goal initiatives. At Aidi School, he designed and constructed a STEAM/STEM-based Innovation Lab with a multi-class smart Project Based Learning zone, a VR/AR/3D printing learning space, and a robotics and coding zone for Sustainable Development Goal achievement and social entrepreneurship. Hazard mentions that an additional advantage of this mode of education is that it encourages students to think about innovation and entrepreneurship within a more ethical and empathetic framework.