Friday, December 04, 2020

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Country School Students Engineer a Zero-Energy Schoolroom

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"Louise Jackson and Everett Barber co-teach an Integrated Algebra II-Geometry class. Mr. Barber's slides on exponential equations are visible in the background while the chat window shows students' calculations of exponential equations, especially relevant in COVID times since this is an exponential function." (Louise Jackson )

Distance Learning is no obstacle to delivering an authentic and meaningful curriculum at The Country School. Louise Jackson’s STEAM Project for her Integrated Algebra II and Geometry students has them creating a “Zero” Classroom of Sustainability for The Country School. The project was inspired by Madison Town Planner and Country School Parent David Anderson. Jackson and Anderson previously worked together on an effort to ban plastic bags in Madison. This “Zero” Classroom of Sustainability encourages students to think as environmentalists as they design a zero-carbon footprint model classroom that incorporates waste reduction, reusing, recycling, upcycling, and composting. After surveying the 23-acre campus, students determined the best site and dimensions for their classroom and then came up with a design that includes a greenhouse, solar panels, and a rainwater tank. Each student created a two-dimensional blueprint via the computer program SketchUP as well as a 3-D model. Rotating through different jobs throughout the project, students worked as architects, engineers, planners, cost estimators, and researchers. Jackson invited Everett Barber, mechanical engineer and former Professor at Yale School of Architecture to co-teach with her. Barber presented lessons about the Greenhouse Effect, helped the students conceptualize how much oil is used in the US and the world annually, and demonstrated their personal impact on the environment by having them calculate the amount of energy (BTUs) they use to take a daily ten-minute shower. (Multiplying their daily shower time over the course of the year showed them their carbon footprint.) To take this to a global scale, they calculated that tank cars filled with petroleum products would need to circumnavigate the globe over 20,000 times to represent the global use of petroleum products for 2018. After this discovery, the students viewed their ten-minute showers through a different lens. Jackson’s plan for this project – much like her effort to ban the use of plastic bags in town – is to take the initiative beyond The Country School community. To promote environmental awareness and stewardship and to provide people with skills to take responsible actions to protect the environment, she is applying for a grant that provides funding to support sustainability-related projects throughout Connecticut and encourages the creation of ideas to make communities more sustainable, equitable, and vibrant. This specific grant provides dollar-for-dollar matching funds, up to $15,000 per project. If The Country School were to raise $15,000 of community funding, the match of an additional $15k would make their student-designed “Zero” House Classroom of Sustainability a reality. But writing a grant is no easy task. As luck would have it, alumna Sarah Platt ‘14, recipient of a UConn IDEA grant for her intergenerational gardening project "Sow, Grow, Savor" returned to Jackson’s class to share her knowledge about grant writing and sustainable farming with the students in the class she fondly recalls taking herself. During their conversation, she and Mrs. Jackson remembered the sustainable house of the future she had designed as an 8th Grader. “I love teaching my students the relevance of learning mathematics and instilling in them a purpose and passion for this subject area. It is important for me to provide the ‘hook.’ My hope is that if I inspire my students, at least some of them will ‘bite’ and I will have done my job well. It is all we can hope for. This is why I teach. In a nutshell, these experiences have been the highlight of my year and the long distance learning experience!” says Jackson. Founded in 1955, The Country School serves students in PreSchool-Grade 8 on (and presently off) its 23-acre campus in Madison. The Country School is committed not only to a vigorous academic curriculum but also to an education that encourages global citizenship through deliberate programs and activities designed to encourage students to embrace differences, explore new perspectives, and find common ground in an increasingly interconnected, complex global community. Learn more about The Country School at www.thecountryschool.org.

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