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DICE collaboration brings students' sustainability research to life

teacher working with studentsEnglish teacher Mackenzie Gasparini’s Foundations of Research class requires students enrolled in the freshman elective to study topics in depth and produce well-sourced evidence that supports their conclusions. 

The current objective, developing concepts for a sustainable school, would typically be demonstrated in brochures and slide presentations. This year, however, Ms. Gasparini rolled the dice, so to speak, on a novel approach. 

She teamed up with the Blind Brook-Rye Union Free School District’s new DICE facilitator, Stephanie Peborde Burke, to reimagine the sustainable school project. The result is a technology-infused project that engages her students in both the process and the final presentations.

“My job is to help teachers think of creative ideas to enhance what they’re already doing in the classroom, to connect to real-world problems and to make those real-world connections for students,” Ms. Peborde Burke said. 

Ms. Gasparini said that she reached out after Ms. Peborde Burke shared a video about the DICE program at a faculty meeting. DICE stands for Design, Innovation, Creation and Expression. It is the district’s approach to STEAM - science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics - and it supports K-12 experiential and hands-on learning in all content areas. 

After presenting the new program, Ms. Peborde Burke asked teachers to share what they were doing in their classrooms so that she, in turn, could offer ways to enhance those ideas with educational technology.

She suggested that Ms. Gasparini’s students use a computer program called Floor Planner to bring their sustainable schools projects to life. Instead of the brochures of the past, the result now will be three-dimensional digital models.

teacher working with students“This was a way for them to actually do the floor plan, draw the room and they could choose different objects to put in it,” Ms. Peborde Burke said. “By choosing objects, they connected to their research and the sustainability development goals to support those choices, and explain why they made those connections.”

The sustainable school project is based on the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, which include zero hunger, quality education, and clean water and sanitation. 

“The goal is, by 2030, to have made a more sustainable world,” Ms. Gasparini explained. “There’s a curriculum within the UN program that teachers can pull from with ideas for implementing the sustainability goals. It’s a way for my kids to do research and learn research skills, but to make it relevant to topics that matter in their lives.”

Nowadays, students are passionate about issues like environmentalism and equality, Ms. Gasparini continued. As a teacher, she seeks opportunities to make assignments relevant to those priorities. Her collaboration with Ms. Peborde Burke further enables that real-world connection. 

This process also encouraged students to focus on their research goals and not only the technology. It created opportunities for them to re-focus on their objective, to look at their works cited, and examine and bolster their sources. 

“They talked about less homework, four-day weeks, later start times,” Ms. Gasparini said of her students. “And there are studies that show that all of those have a valid place in sustainable schools. But if they lost sight of the sustainability, this forces them to say, ‘let’s make it look like a sustainable school. What are the elements?’”

View a sample student project here: 

Sample student project: