Environmental STEM in an Urban Context


Boris Srdar
NAC Architecture

Christine Benita
Seattle Public Schools

Jenni Lachner


1 Learning Units (LU)

How applies to HSW:

Real challenges are associated with teaching environmental STEM in an urban condition. In particular, how can an urban school site effectively bring science to life for students and teachers? A case study of Hazel Wolf K-8 in Seattle can serve as an example of a school that’s much more than its site. Located on only 3.14 acres in a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood, the school pursues an environmental-based curriculum without any compromises. Teachers at Hazel Wolf have practiced multiple modes of indoor and outdoor learning. Students’ enthusiasm for outdoor learning on their site has resulted in a wide choice of self-initiated science based projects, increasing relevant interdisciplinary learning across the curriculum. Accommodating such an experientially rich educational program resulted in design that has interpreted biophilic principles towards blurring the lines of spatially separate activities, enriching the intertwining of learning, play and socializing. We will discuss how Hazel Wolf can serve as a model for urban STEM programs that desire to expand their reach and use STEM as a tool to stimulate students’ directed inquiries. During this session you will hear from the Elementary Science Specialist for Seattle Public Schools on how:

  • The building and site are designed like an indoor/outdoor lab. Classrooms are organized in a three story building surrounded by different outdoor learning spaces. Because of the proximity between the indoor and outdoor learning environments, there’s little barrier in time, cost, or planning to move between indoors and outdoors to best suit learning.
  • The outdoor learning spaces are designed for educational accessibility. They are used by all curricular programs at the school, not just STEM subjects. They are used by all grades at the school, including the childcare that’s operated by an outside agency. The outdoor spaces support use by individuals, small groups, and entire classes.
  • The development of an environmental STEM program engages teachers in the practice of using the natural environment as a way to reinforce and expand the activities of the classroom for all disciplines.

Additionally, the project architect will walk you through a comparison of environmental schools on urban sites with examples from other urban areas around the world opening the realm of innovative educational and design possibilities.

Learning Objectives:
  • At the end of the program participants will be able to analyze, and differentiate between, urban school sites with a strong STEM focus in the United States and interesting environmental programs in an urban context around the world.;
  • At the end of the program participants will be able to define ways in which an environmental-STEM program can serve as a catalyst for student initiated inquiries and student directed learning.
  • At the end of the program participants will be able to express the benefits and opportunities afforded by an engaging outdoor school site. ;
  • At the end of the program participants will be able to test opportunities for outdoor learning on their own school site.
Primary Competency:

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Primary Domain:

Toolbox: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the approaches, methods and applications when transitioning from design and concept into reality, actual existence through quality performance, execution and/or product.

Secondary Domain:

Learning: Content of this session/workshop will focus on how we learn and/or how the physical environment responds specifically to various methods of instruction, pedagogies, learning styles, or learning trends.