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Green Building: Tools for the Future

Originally appears in the Summer 2016 issue

Tool belt, skilsaw, cordless drill with batteries and charger, measuring tapes, surveyor’s transit, carpenter pencils…. Are these on your list of school supplies? If they are, then you might already be conducting building projects with your students. If not, you should consider incorporating this into your curriculum. In my 17 years as a science teacher at Yampah Mountain High School, a public alternative high school in western Colorado, my students and I have built a small strawbale classroom and a greenhouse. We have also assisted with the installation of a grid-tied solar energy system on the school’s roof.

Carefully planned construction projects can create powerful, hands-on learning spaces that do double duty as they teach about energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other core STEM principles long after construction is completed. In this article I will guide you through the steps required to conceive, design, plan, fund, and complete your project. Building projects can address complex environmental issues and demonstrate solutions. If you have never built anything, don’t be scared to learn as you go. Be a student with your students!

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Susy Ellison is a recently retired teacher with a long career in place-based, environmental literacy education. She received the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Richard C Bartlett Award for infusing environmental literacy throughout her school’s curriculum, and can be reached at