Accepted paper:

Knowing sustainability: building communities of practice through project-based learning in urban ecology at high tech high


Carl Maida (University of California, Los Angeles)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on a community of practice of students and adult mentors, with the goal of “knowing” sustainability based upon socially defined competence and habits of mind developed through urban ecology projects that integrate a holistic perspective of Earth’s natural and human systems.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on how sustainability literacy increases through projects that integrate a holistic perspective of Earth's natural and human systems as part of secondary education. The idea of "indigenous invention" refers to a school culture that is created through local knowledge and experience, i.e., the learning environment and styles of inquiry are place-focused and rooted in community action. To this end, project-based learning involving students as collaborators in the creation of curricular goals and outcomes takes place at High Tech High, San Diego where an ongoing project uses San Diego Bay as an outdoor laboratory to understand regional urban ecology. Teachers and students design their learning experiences and develop strong local partnerships with academic, industrial, and non-profit sector stakeholders in a continuing community-based conservation program on behalf of the Bay. Student researchers use photography, interviewing, mapping, drawing, and journaling, together with ecological surveys and DNA barcoding for identification of invasive species, to develop an understanding of their surroundings and self-awareness of their place within them. Through learning in the field and the classroom, students begin to make connections about the complexity of the local environment, and the need to care for it. Students produce a book on a specific topic about the San Diego Bay, including historical ecology and conservation practices, which integrates cartography, humanities, biology, and art. This community of practice among students and their adult mentors holds the promise of "knowing" sustainability based upon socially defined competence and habits of mind grounded in accomplishment and personal responsibility.

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Communities of practice in global sustainability